bell hooks was born Gloria Jean Watkins on September 25, 1952. The town of Hopkinsville, Kentucky, where she and her five siblings grew up and went to school, was segregated, and her experiences in this community helped shape the commitment to feminism and resistance to racism central to her life’s work.
hooks wrote her first book, Ain’t I a Woman, while she was an undergraduate student at Stanford University. Her pen name, bell hooks, was borrowed from her great-grandmother, but she used the lower-case letters as a means to foreground the content of her writings rather than her identity as author. After it was published in 1981, Publisher’s Weekly ranked it in the “twenty most influential women’s books of the previous twenty years.”
Throughout her career, hooks has held academic positions at The University of California in Santa Cruz, Yale University, Oberlin College, and City College of New York. She is known as a “crossover” academic, meaning that her works span many academic disciplines. The focus of her over thirty published works has been race and gender theory, but these works are remarkably diverse in how they apply race and gender theory to various disciplines, from pedagogy and teaching to film and media studies. In academic communities today, her works are read, taught, and considered foundational in many fields.
Alongside her various theoretical and critical publications, she has also published five children’s books, a memoir, works of poetry, as well as appearing in numerous films. Today she lives in Kentucky.