bell hooks was born Gloria Jean Watkins on September 25, 1952, in Hopkinsville, Kentucky. Her hometown was a small segregated town where people barely got by on their wages but were content with doing so. She was exposed to racism, which would later contribute to her views, which she expressed through her writing.
In this segregated neighborhood, Watkins’ father worked as a janitor and her mother was a domestic. She attended a segregated school where a handful of Black female teachers worked diligently to build self-esteem among the Black children in their classrooms. By the age of 10, she was writing and reciting poetry, making a name for herself among friends and faculty.
Throughout high school, Watkins continued to write and publish poetry. She also wrote essays about the intersectionality of racism and sexism that Black women are subject to. After graduating high school, she began her collegiate career at Stanford University in California.
Shortly after graduating high school, Watkins wrote a small book of poetry. She adopted the pseudonym, bell hooks, to publish her book under. She decided against capitalizing her first and last name in order to place more value on her work as opposed to herself.
At the age of 19, hooks began writing her first book, ‘Ain’t I a Woman.’ Writing her book proved difficult while she juggled a full load of classes and a job as a telephone operator. For the next six years, she would work through several drafts of her manuscript before completing the final draft.
South End Press
hooks initially faced trouble getting her book published. While giving a talk on feminism at a bookstore in San Francisco, she met her future publisher. ‘Aint I a Woman’ was published in 1981 by South End Press. Publishers Weekly later praised her work as one of the most influential women’s books written in the past twenty years.
Shortly after publishing her book, hooks earned her doctorate in English Literature and then began teaching. She held various positions at the University of California in Santa Cruz until she was offered a teaching position at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut where she taught Black studies. She then taught women’s studies at Oberlin College in Ohio.
In 1995, hooks accepted a position at the City College in New York and began working with the Henry Holt publishing company. There, she released ‘Killing Rage: Ending Racism.’ bell hooks now resides in New York City, continuing to write and remain proactive in the struggle against racism and sexism.
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