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Remembering bell hooks

Social Science, Philosophy and Religion Department, Central Library,
bell hooks in 1988
bell hooks [ca 1988]

bell hooks (born Gloria Jean Watkins) stands out as one of the nation’s pillars of both feminism and African American studies. It’s no exaggeration to say that every media outlet of note has highlighted her life and works upon her passing Wednesday, December 15.

A question that frequently arises, “why is her name in all lower case?” reveals her foundational ethos, detailed in a portion of an interview between the PBS Newshour journalist Amna Nawaz by a former student, Dr. Imani Perry, Hughes-Rogers professor of African American studies at Princeton University:

Amna Nawaz: She took the pen name bell hooks, which was her great-grandmother's name.

Imani Perry: Yes.

Amna Nawaz: What do we know about why did she take that name and why all lowercase when she used it?

Imani Perry: Yes. She was—it was consistent of leftist organizers of the era to think of one—the individual in the lowercase, that one spoke in the collective, right?

So, her name was both an homage to her great-grandmother and the women who came before, but also with a kind of humility to choose the lower case. And she was very much—I mean, she traveled the world. She had a massive influence. She was a Southern country woman to her core.

And she never lost touch with that. It was—and so there was a kind of intimacy with that identity that she held on to through her pen name, as it were, but I always called her Gloria.

hooks left Kentucky, earned academic credentials (BA Stanford 1974, MA Univ. of Wisconsin 1976, Ph.D. UC Santa Cruz 1983), became a university professor, and taught throughout California (including USC) and the United States. She returned to her native Kentucky in 2004 to teach at Berea College where she later established the bell hooks Institute.

With her first acclaimed nonfiction work, Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism (1981), hooks brought into the open the failure of white feminists to acknowledge dual layers of sexism and racism their black sisters suffered. In over 30 subsequent works, hooks further pushed feminists to include the profound effects of class and poverty on women’s progress in the world. Poetry, children's books, and cultural criticism rounded out works for which hooks most known.

A quick check of our catalog shows, unsurprisingly, that most every book, especially bell hook’s seminal works, are currently checked out with waitlists. We encourage readers to place holds (print or e-media). hooks’ influence will continue to wash through American society and her words will remain vibrant through her books. The short bibliography below is a portion of her works available through the Los Angeles Public Library.

bell hooks Reading List

Ain't I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism
hooks, bell

All About Love: New Visions
hooks, bell

Appalachian Elegy: Poetry and Place
hooks, bell

Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics
hooks, bell

Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center
hooks, bell

Happy to be Nappy
hooks, bell

Rock my Soul: Black People and Self-Esteem
hooks, bell

Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black
hooks, bell

Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope
hooks, bell

The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love
hooks, bell

We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity
hooks, bell