5 Fascinating Facts About bell hooks

bell hooks speaking in 2009.
bell hooks speaking in 2009. / Cmongirl, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Gloria Jean Watkins, who wrote with the pen name bell hooks, is widely considered one of the most influential intellectuals and writers of the late-20th century. Her writing explores the intersection of race, gender, and capitalism, with an emphasis on the idea of a “white supremacist capitalist patriarchy” [PDF]. She was born on September 25, 1952, and died on December 15, 2021. Even if you've read all of her work, there are still some things you might not know about bell hooks.

1. bell hooks is a pen name.

Gloria Watkins’s maternal great-grandmother inspired her pen name, bell hooks, which she first used while publishing a small book of poems. She opted to not capitalize her first and last names to emphasize her writing instead of herself.

2. bell hooks published more than 30 books.

Hooks began working on Ain't I a Woman? Black Women and Feminism, her earliest mainstream work, when she was 19. It was published a decade later in 1981, and hooks authored more than 30 books since. She wrote for readers of all ages: Her work includes several board books, aimed toward very young children.

3. bell hooks handwrote all her books.

In an interview with JSTOR, hooks talked about her writing process and revealed why she preferred handwriting her books. “I like to handwrite because I think differently when I do so,” she said. “For me, the stages tend to be that I work something through in my head, and then start writing it.”

4. bell hooks found creative inspiration in Buddhism.

Hooks, who identified as a Buddhist Christian, was first introduced to spirituality through Beat poets, particularly Gary Snyder and Jack Kerouac. She explained how Buddhism inspired her writing habits: “One of the things I like about Buddhism is its emphasis on practice; when I apply that to writing, writing becomes a form of practice that gives me the energy to spend long hours.”

5. bell hooks was influenced by Paulo Freire.

In her book Breaking Bread: Insurgent Black Intellectual Life, hooks called Brazilian philosopher Paulo Freire one of her major mentors. She didn't agree with everything Freire said. But his concept of critical consciousness left a mark, and the philosopher had a lasting effect on her ideas of literacy and consciousness, two concepts she viewed as necessary for the feminist movement's future. [PDF].