Her pen-name is intentionally un-capitalized in a deliberate choice to ensure attention of the reader would be on her work and was inspired by her maternal grandmother Bell Blair Hooks. The choice honors both her grandmother and her mother Rosa. Her grandmother had a reputation as a strong, outspoken and witty woman, and Ms.hooks herself came to have the same reputation. Although her given name is Gloria Jean Watkins, she is most known by her pen-name, and for this reason I will continue to refer to her as Ms.hooks.
Ms.hooks had five sisters and one brother; her father Vernon worked as a custodian and her mother was a homemaker and maid working in homes owned by rich white people. Throughout her youth Ms.hooks read voraciously, and would compose her own poems which she would perform for her family during the frequent power-cuts her neighborhood would suffer. Poems she wrote were published in her Sunday School magazine, and although Ms.hooks would later find her spirituality in Buddhism, her works praise the spiritual strength and resilience women found within the Christianity of her youth.
After the Kentucky education system was legally desegregated in the late 1960s Ms.hooks moved into integrated educational institutions which involved a profound shift in her scholastic experience. She moved from being taught by predominantly black women to white tutors of both genders. After graduating from Hopkinsville High School Ms.hooks won a scholarship to Stanford University where she gained a B.A. in 1973, and then went on to receive an M.A. in 1976 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, both in English.
In 1978 her collection of poems entitled And There We Wept, inspired by the women with whom she was raised and whose experiences formed her was
published as a chapbook. Already, though, Ms.hooks was writing what became her most famous publication Ain’t I A Woman?, a book begun at the age of 19 but unfinished for 6 years and unpublished until 1981.
The title came from the famous speech by American abolitionist Sojourner Truth, a woman who was a strong influence on Ms hooks. Written partly during her time at Stanford University, this book was to become what Publishers Weekly would call in 1992 "twenty most influential women's books of the previous twenty years” in its groundbreaking study of sexism and racism. Ms.hooks drew inspiration and knowledge from the women she grew up with and those she worked with as a Telephone Operator whilst studying and writing at Stanford, a working class profession which attracted mainly black working class women.
Ms.hooks was appointed Assistant Professor of Afro-American studies and English at Yale University between 1980 and 1985, and it was whilst working
here, in 1983, she was awarded a Ph.D. in English from the University of California, Santa Cruz.
From 1986 to 1994 she was appointed Associate Professor of English at Oberlin College, Oberlin, OH, then moved to become Professor and later Distinguished Professor of English at City College, of New York from 1995 to 2004. Since 2004 Ms.hooks as been Distinguished Professor-in-Residence at Berea College, Berea, KY. Ms.hooks also co-founded of Hambone literary magazine, a magazine first published at Stanford University in 1974 and then revived in 1982.
Although a profoundly influential writer, Ms.hooks feels it is in her career as an educator that her most important work is achieved. As a person whose history and identity would most deny her both the right and access to education, she has been able to form the educational syllabus which includes critiques on race and gender social theory previously missing from such programs.
Teaching is an act of political resistance and advancement which for Ms.hooks has proved personally most significant. Her lectures combine analyses of race, gender, patriarchy and class consciousness which had been missing. Her concern to be accessible means such lectures took place in myriad venues; from bookshops to classrooms to universities.
Ms.hooks writings reflect her belief that gender, race, education and media are all significant in the development of popular culture, and whilst she is predominantly renowned as a feminist scholar all these topics interconnect fundamentally in her works. She was influenced by, amongst others, Paulo Freire, Gustavo Guitierrez, Erich Fromm, Lorraine Hansberry, Thicht Nhat Hanh, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. These influences are shown in her works which combine intersectional political study with post-modern theory and cultural inspiration. Her inclusion of personal experience within academic work was innovative and helped Ms.hooks reach a wider audience than would be expected.
Ms.hooks is one of the earliest voices in what came to be defined as third-wave feminism, and was instrumental in the development of a feminist consciousness and theory which acknowledged and addressed the class and race biases which has been previously predominant in feminist works and activism.
Selected further reading by Ms.hooks:
Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black – 1989
Sisters of the Yam: Black Women and Self-Recovery – 1993
Killing Rage: Ending Racism –
Where We Stand: Class Matters –
The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity and Love – 2003
Teaching Critical Thinking: Practical Wisdom – 2010
Ain’t I a Woman? Black Women & Feminism – bell hooks, 1981
Black Looks: Race and Representation – bell hooks, 1992
Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics – bell hooks, 2000
FOTW TIWAFLL No. 3 (compiled by Kayla Calkin):
Blog by Tina Price-Johnson