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Renowned feminist author and activist bell hooks dies at 69

bell hooks, pictured in 2009, died Wednesday at her Kentucky home from renal failure. File Photo by <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bellhooks.jpg">Cmongirl/Wikimedia</a>
bell hooks, pictured in 2009, died Wednesday at her Kentucky home from renal failure. File Photo by Cmongirl/Wikimedia

Dec. 15 (UPI) -- Groundbreaking Black feminist author and scholar bell hooks died Wednesday at her home in Kentucky, her family announced. She was 69.

Her niece, Ebony Motley, said hooks had been ill and was surrounded by family and friends at the time of her death, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported.

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Sister Gwenda Motley told The Washington Post she died of end-stage renal failure.

Born Gloria Jean Watkins in 1952 in Hopkinsville, Ky., she used her great-grandmother's name as a pen name and styled it all lowercase. She said she wanted to pay homage to her relative, while also drawing focus away from herself and instead onto her work.

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"I was a young girl buying bubble gum at the corner store when I first really heard the full name bell hooks," she wrote in her book Talking Back. "I had just 'talked back' to a grown person.

"Even now I can recall the surprised look, the mocking tones that informed me I must be kin to bell hooks -- a sharp-tongued woman, a woman who spoke her mind, a woman who was not afraid to talk back. I claimed this legacy of defiance, of will, of courage, affirming my link to female ancestors who were bold and daring in their speech."

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Hooks grew up in Kentucky, attending segregated schools before earning degrees at Stanford University and the University of Wisconsin, and finally, a doctorate at the University of California at Santa Cruz.

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She wrote and co-wrote dozens of books on gender, race, film theory, culture, politics and literature. She also wrote books of poetry -- And There We Wept: Poems -- and children's books -- Happy to be Nappy and Grump Groan Growl.

She also provided commentary for a number of documentaries, including BaadAsssss Cinema, about Blacksploitation, and Black is ... Black Ain't, about Black identity in the United States.

In 2004, hooks returned to her home state of Kentucky, where she taught at Berea College.

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Clint Smith, a writer for The Atlantic who wrote a book about slavery in the United States titled Counting Descent and How the Word is Passed, called hooks a "treasure."

Smith tweeted, "bell hooks was an extraordinary writer, thinker, and scholar who gave us new language with which to make sense of the world around us.

"Her work was imbued with a deep commitment to truth-telling, but also with a profound sense of care and love for community."

Black studies professor and fellow author Barbara Ransby tweeted that she was "saddened by the death of friend & colleague, bell hooks, 2 days after the anniversary of Leith Mullings death. So much Black feminist loss. We treasure what they left us and let us treasure one another more, w/ all of our complexities & contradictions, 4 as long as we are here."

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Notable deaths of 2021

Betty White
Betty White attends the media preview for the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association's Beastly Ball fundraiser at the Los Angeles Zoo in Los Angeles on June 11, 2015. The actress died December 31. She was 99 years old. Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo

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