Bell Hooks is a pen name of a renowned African-American author, Gloria Jean Watkins. She also took part in social activism and supports feminism. The central focus of her writing is interconnectivity of race, capitalism, and gender. She also explains the influence of these elements to promote system of oppression and inequality. Till now she is credited with publishing over 30 books.
Gloria Jean Watkins was born on September 25, 1952 in Hopkinsville, Kentucky. She belonged to a working class family in which her mother was a homemaker and her father, a custodian. Since early childhood, Hooks developed a keen interest in reading books. She received her early education in a racially segregated public school. She talked about the problems she faced when she was transferred to the integrated school, in her books. After graduating from Hopkinsville High School, she went on to study at Stanford University and majored in English in 1973. Then she attended the University of Wisconsin–Madison where she earned a Masters in English Literature degree.
Subsequent to her post-graduation, Hooks stepped into teaching career and began to write. Alongside, she also continued to work on her doctorate program with a dissertation on twentieth century author Toni Morrison and eventually completed it from the University of California. In 1976, Hooks accepted the lectureship at the University of Southern California as English professor and Ethnic studies lecturer. During her tenure, she began to work on a chapbook of poems, entitled “And There We Wept” (1978). It was published under her pen name which was inspired by her grandmother’s name, who was known for her sharp and snappy comments. She used the lower case to differentiate her name from her grandmother’s and also to imply that substance of the book matters more than the author.
During early 1980s, Bell Hooks taught at several higher education institutes, such as San Francisco State University and University of California. Besides, she continued to concentrate on her writing and published one of her seminal works, Ain’t I a Woman?: Black Women and Feminism, in 1981. The years to come after its publication witnessed a wide scale increase in the readership of the book due to its influential postmodern feminist approach to the ubiquitous social issues. Several recurring themes that are explored in the book include racism on black women, media roles and portrayal, degradation of black women and the impact of sexism from historical perspective. Other topics discussed in the book involve education system, the disregard for issues of race and class within feminism and a white-supremacist-capitalist-patriarchy.
The book helped cement her position as a cultural critic, postmodern political thinker and a leftist. In addition to writing books, Hooks also contributed to scholarly magazines and her thought-provoking write-ups inspired a widespread audience. She discussed aforementioned topics and themes in lectures that she delivered at numerous seminars and appeared in a variety of documentaries based on such issues. The contemporary feminists are often seen quoting and understanding the misunderstood concept of feminism through her works. According to Bell Hooks, ‘Feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression’. Also it is neither a fear nor a fantasy as so commonly mistaken for but a quest for equality for both genders.