Writer, professor and social critic, bell hooks is the author of numerous critically acclaimed and widely influential books on the function of race, gender and class.
Born on September 25th 1952, bell hooks, née Gloria Watkins, was raised in Hopkinsville, Kentucky. The author's use of a pseudonym derives from her grandmother, providing her with the opportunity to establish a separate voice from the person, Gloria Watson. In marking this difference, significantly hooks uses lower case letters for her full name.
The small and segregated town was marked by many social problems, where hooks experienced a poor, rural and southern upbringing growing up as a black American among six siblings. Living in a community rife with hardships, hooks turned these into a source of strength and resistance to racism. These negative and positive experiences would shape her education, career and influence.
hooks graduated from Crispus Attucks High School in Hopkinsville, then embarked on a degree in English Literature at Stanford University, graduating in 1973. She later received a master's degree from the University of Wisconsin and went on to establish a career in teaching. hooks specialized in English literature, composition, writing and African American literature at a variety of institutions including the University of California at Los Angeles and the University of California, Santa Cruz. She went on to appointments at Yale, Oberlin and City College of New York.
Written in her early 20s, Ain't I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism is hooks' first book, published in 1981. This title became a central novel in discussions of racism and sexism, and was named one of the "twenty most influential women's books of the last twenty years" by Publishers Weekly. This work indicted mainstream white feminism's exclusion of African American women's experiences and voices.
hooks has since published over 30 titles, including: Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center; Yearning: Race, Gender and Cultural Politics; Breaking Bread: Insurgent Black Intellectual Life (with Cornell West). Still driving forward in her intellectual, teaching and creative work, hooks continually adds to American cultural, political and literary landscape. In 2000, she published three books with themes of race, gender, sex and class.
hooks has two distinguished avenues of literary works. First are the highly visible and influential critical works. Although these works include highly personal anecdotes and experiences, she was motivated to write her own autobiographies. Thus, the second avenue includes autobiographical works.
Primary autobiographies include Bone Black: Memories of Girlhood (1996), and Wounds of Passion: A Writing Life (1997). In these books, hooks takes an innovative stance in writing her autobiographies. She deviates from the conventional coherent, chronological and ‘linear story' narratives that would take you through her rise as a public intellectual and expert feminist critic. Instead, hooks focuses on dreams, fantasies and feelings that shape our views of ourselves.
The use of imagery in Bone Black, hooks "… conjures a rich magical world of southern black culture, that was sometimes paradisiacal and at other times terrifying". She provides the readers texture to her life experiences, communicating intellectual, emotional and erotic significance. Her use of first and third person in her autobiographical works establishes different vantage points on her past. Her third person approach reveals the observer in hooks, where she takes a critical view of events, providing distance between herself and painful events which inevitably formed her life and character. Bone Black has a childhood narrative, giving a little insight into her rural and crowded childhood, on a journey of understanding her world. hooks tries to understand the racially, economically and sexually divisive world in which she lives, in the sophisticated Wounds of Passion.
hooks is perpetually adding to her critically acclaimed, compelling and often controversial works. Discussions of the incorporation of her personal life appears more significant than that of her more autobiographical works, perhaps due to her highly influential plethora of critique works.
hooks has a growing list of honors and awards. In 1994, she was made Distinguished Professor of English at City College, New York. hooks has received the American Book Award before Columbus Foundation for Yearning and the Writer's Award from the Lila-Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund. The author's career as a political thinker and cultural critic has introduced many people to radical feminist theory and action.