13 minute read

Bell Hooks (1952–) Biography

Personal, Addresses, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights

(Gloria Jean Watkins)


Born 1952, in Hopkinsville, KY; Education: Stanford University, B.A., 1973; University of Wisconsin, M.A. 1976; University of California Santa Cruz, Ph.D. (English), 1987.

bell hook (Photograph by John Pinderhughes, Pinderhughes Photography, Inc. Reproduced by permission.)


Office—Department of English, Berea College, 101 Chestnut St., Berea, KY 40404.


Social critic, educator, and writer. Yale University, New Haven, CT, assistant professor of Afro-American studies and English, 1980–85; Oberlin College, Oberlin, OH, associate professor of English, 1986–94; City College of New York, professor, then distinguished professor of English, 1995–2004; Berea College, Berea, KY, distinguished professor-in-residence, beginning 2004. Co-founder, Hambone literary magazine.

Honors Awards

American Book Award, Before Columbus Foundation, 1991, for Yearning: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics; Writer's Award, Lila Wallace/Reader's Digest Fund, 1994; Image Award nomination, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, 2001, for Happy to Be Nappy; Children's Book of the Year designation, Bank Street College, 2002, for Homemade Love; Hurston Wright Legacy Award nomination, 2002, for Salvation: Black People and Love.



Happy to Be Nappy, illustrated by Chris Raschka, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1998, boardbook edition, Jump at the Sun (New York, NY), 2001.

Homemade Love, illustrations by Shane W. Evans, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2002.

Be Boy Buzz, illustrated by Chris Raschka, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2002.

Skin Again, illustrated by Chris Raschka, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2004.


Ain't I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism, South End Press (Cambridge, MA), 1981.

Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center, South End Press (Cambridge, MA), 1984, second edition, 2000.

Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black, Between-the-Lines, 1988.

Yearning: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics, Between-the-Lines, 1990.

(With Cornell West) Breaking Bread: Insurgent Black Intellectual Life, South End Press (Cambridge, MA), 1991.

Black Looks: Race and Representation, South End Press (Cambridge, MA), 1992.

Sisters of the Yam: Black Women and Self Recovery, South End Press (Cambridge, MA), 1993, second edition, 2005.

Outlaw Culture: Resisting Representations, Routledge (New York, NY), 1994.

Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom, Routledge (New York, NY), 1994.

Changing the Subject: Painting and Prints, 1992–94, Art in General, 1994.

Art on My Mind: Visual Politics, New Press, 1995.

Killing Rage: Ending Racism, Holt (New York, NY), 1995.

Reel to Real: Race, Sex, and Class at the Movies, Routledge (New York, NY), 1996.

Remembered Rapture: The Writer at Work, Holt (New York, NY), 1999.

All about Love: New Visions, Morrow (New York, NY), 2000.

Feminism Is for Everybody: Passionate Politics, South End Press (Cambridge, MA), 2000.

Where We Stand: Class Matters, Routledge (New York, NY), 2000.

Salvation: Black People and Love, Morrow (New York, NY), 2001.

Communion: The Female Search for Love, Morrow (New York, NY), 2002.

Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope, Routledge (New York, NY), 2002.

Rock My Soul: Black People and Self-Esteem, Atria Books (New York, NY), 2003.

We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity, Routledge (New York, NY), 2004.

The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love, Atria Books (New York, NY), 2004.

(With Amalia Mesa-Bains) Homegrown: Engaged Cultural Criticism, South End Press (Cambridge, MA), 2006.

Contributor to books, including Double Stitch: Black Women Write about Mothers and Daughters, 1992, Anthology of Contemporary African-American Women Artists, 1995, The Masculine Masquerade, 1995, An Elliptical Traverse of 20th-Century Art, 1996, Spoils of War, 1997, Talking about a Revolution, 1998, and UpSouth, 1999. Contributor to periodicals, including Emerge, Callalo, Utne Reader, and Catalyst.


A Woman's Mourning Song (poetry), Writers and Readers, 1992.

Bone Black: Memories of Girlhood, Holt (New York, NY), 1996.

Wounds of Passion: A Writing Life, Holt (New York, NY), 1997.


Considered among the foremost intellectuals of her generation, bell hooks is a social critic and educator who writes about social and cultural topics ranging from racism to feminism to the theory of art and the practice of education. Well known in academic circles for her essays collected in the books Ain't I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism and Yearning: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics, among others, hooks has also written movingly of her own childhood in the memoir Bone Black: Memories of Girlhood, and of writing in both Wounds of Passion: A Writing Life and Remembered Rapture: The Writer at Work. Beginning with 1999's Happy to Be Nappy, hooks broadened her audience to include younger children, and the picture books she has produced with illustrators Chris Raschka and Shane W. Evans have been commended for instilling young African Americans with cultural pride and self-esteem.

Born Gloria Jean Watkins in 1952, hooks grew up in Kentucky, the daughter of a custodial worker and a homemaker. Poetry was a family-shared interest, and when frequent storms caused power outages, the Watkins family would sit in candlelight and recite poetry to one another. Writing her own poetry at an early age, hooks was also inspired by the writings of Emily Dickinson. While she dreamed about becoming an architect when she grew up, the power of words would ultimately prove more compelling than design, although hooks has discussed both art and design in her nonfiction writing.

Hooks's experiences growing up in a segregated community have caused her to focus predominately on the effects of racism in much of her published work. Additionally, her father's rigid traditional beliefs regarding gender roles made her question, early on, the sexism In her first book for children, Happy to Be Nappy, hooks shines an upbeat light on African-American culture, with illustrations by Chris Raschka. (Text copyright © 1999 by bell hooks. Illustration copyright © 1999 by Chris Raschka. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of Hyperion Books for Children.)alive in both the black community and U.S. society at large. Her feminist stance is rooted in the strong female role models that figured largely in her early life; in fact, her adopted name is that of her great grandmother, adopted in order, according to Paula Giddings in Ms., to "honor the unlettered wisdom of her foremothers." Hooks writes the name in the lower case, as she explained to Michel Marriott in the New York Times, "to emphasize her message and not herself."

The place of African-American women within the feminist movement of the late twentieth century is the focus of several of hooks's essay collections, including her first, 1981's Ain't I a Woman. Begun when its author was nineteen years old, Ain't I a Woman takes its title from a speech by the nineteenth-century former slave and abolitionist Sojourner Truth. In this book hooks challenges the minor role black women were given in both the feminist and black liberation movements, and champions the idea of sisterhood among black women. She expands her thesis regarding black feminism in Feminist Theory and the essay collection Talking Back. A prolific writer, she continued to publish a book per year throughout the 1990s, in addition to her teaching duties, which included serving as distinguished professor of English at the City College of New York. In books such as Black Looks: Race and Representation and Outlaw Culture: Resisting Representations she takes on cultural and societal shibboleths: studying not only the black woman's place in the scheme of things, but also that of the black intellectual, while also examining the role of the outsider in so-called mainstream society.

Teaching to Transgress, a collection of essays about the power of teaching, was praised as "full of hope and excitement for the possibility of education to liberate and include" by a Publishers Weekly critic, while her Art on My Mind, a book on the impact of black artists, particularly women, prompted Booklist critic Donna Seaman to write that, "As erudite and sophisticated as hooks is, she is also eminently readable, even exhilarating."

Viewed as inspirational reading for teen readers, hooks's autobiographical writings include the childhood chronicle Bone Black and her recollections of her college years in Wounds of Passion. In Bone Black hooks recalls the formative influences on her youth: the black community, strong women, religion, and the local library. Openly discussing her budding sexuality as well as the domestic turbulence in her home, hooks draws an intimate portrait of growing up black in a segregated community. Dottie Kraft, writing in School Library Journal, found the book to be a "treasure box of memories" and a "unique autobiography of a contemporary African-American woman," while Seaman wrote in Booklist that the memoir, a "lyrical, deeply moving, and brilliantly structured autobiography," showcases hooks's ability "to articulate the sharp, unrelenting anguish of her young self, and her struggle to find comfort and inspiration in books." Wounds of Passion, which takes up hooks's life at the point at which she leaves Kentucky to enroll at Stanford and has, at its heart, her prolonged love affair with a man who she spent fifteen years with, was described by Ann Burns in Library Journal as an "exceptionally written memoir."

With Happy to Be Nappy hooks takes a new direction in her written work, creating a children's picture book that celebrates the unique qualities of blackness. For hooks's young protagonist, her nappy hair is "soft like cotton, / flower petal billowy soft, full of frizz and fuzz." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly called the book a "joyous ode to hair" and a "powerful, uplifting and, above all, buoyantly fun read-aloud." In Booklist Rochman described the book as "bubbling over with affection, and injecting a strong self-esteem boost for girls." Praising the author's "ebulient, poetic text," Rochman also commended Raschka's "superb" illustrations for "bolstering the theme of individuality."

Described by Horn Book critic Susan Dove Lempke as "a celebration of humanity rather than ethnicity," Skin Again takes another physical characteristic and brings home the point that beneath our varied shells, all humans are unique. "The skin I'm in is just a covering," hooks's young narrator recites. "It cannot tell my story." Addressing the issue of stereotypes in rhythmic language that will appeal to young children, the book employs "exuberant, playful imagery that will open discussion," according to Rochman. Dubbing Skin Again a "verbal and visual celebration" that features Raschka's "impressionistic" art, School Library Journal reviewer Grace Oliff praised hooks for her "deft handling of language," noting that it makes the story "gently persuasive rather than didactic."

Building self-esteem, particularly among African-American children, is the unifying theme of hooks's picture books. Described by a Publishers Weekly reviewer as a "stunning volume" that "celebrates all things boy," Be Boy Buzz once again reunites hooks and Raschka in a pairing of rhyme and delightful artistry. What the Publishers Weekly reviewer described as the author's "rhythmic blend of brevity and eloquence" inspires the illustrator's pastel and watercolor portraits depicting a young boy engaging in everything from running and jumping to pouting and dreaming. While noting in her Black Issues Book Review article that hooks's "liberal use of Ebonics may prove controversial," Evette Porter nonetheless praised the "sparse narrative" for its ability to convey a range of childhood feelings.

Broadening her scope from the child to the family, Homemade Love pairs hooks's verse with Evans' brightly toned artwork to present what a Kirkus Reviews contributor described as a "paean to parental unconditional love" that features a "joyful, loving African-American family." Narrated by a young black girl dubbed "girlpie" by her parents, the book shows that mis-steps do not diminish true affection within a loving home. In School Library Journal Amy Lilien-Harper praised the book's young protagonist for "exuding happiness and a zest for life," while in Booklist Gillian Engberg commended hooks's picture book as "an elemental celebration of children and African-American pride."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Contemporary Black Biography, Volume 5, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1994.

Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 94, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1994.

Feminist Writers, edited by Pamela Kester-Shelton, St.

James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.

Florence, Namulundah, Bell Hooks's Engaged Pedagogy: A Transgressive Education for Critical Consciousness, Bergin & Garvey, 1998.

hooks, bell, Bone Black: Memories of Girlhood, Holt (New York, NY), 1996.

hooks, bell, Happy to Be Nappy, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1998.

hooks, bell, Skin Again, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2004.

hooks, bell, Wounds of Passion: A Writing Life, Holt (New York, NY), 1997.


Black Enterprise, June, 1992, p. 23.

Black Issues Book Review, November-December, 2002, Evette Porter, "Bell hooks' Be a Boy and Girlpie," p. 42.

Booklist, June 1, 1995, Donna Seaman, review of Art on My Mind: Visual Politics, p. 1715; September 15, 1995, Bonnie Smothers, review of Killing Rage: Ending Racism, pp. 118, 147; September 15, 1996, Donna Seaman, review of Bone Black, p. 189; February 15, 1999, Donna Seaman, review of Bone Black, p. 1025; August 19, 1999, Hazel Rochman, review of Happy to Be Nappy; November 1, 2002, Hazel Rochman, re view of Be Boy Buzz, p. 508; February 1, 2003, Gillian Engberg, review of Homemade Love, p. 1001; January 1, 2004, Vernon Ford, review of We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity, p. 796; September 15, 2004, Hazel Rochman, review of Skin Again, p. 250.

Bookwatch, July 1989, p. 4; September, 1992, p. 10.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, December, 2002, review of Be Boy Buzz, p. 160; February, 2003, review of Homemade Love, p. 238; December, 2004, Karen Coats, review of Skin Again, p. 171.

Choice, April, 1982, review of Ain't I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism, p. 1141; July, 1985, p. 1703.

Essence, July, 1989, p. 20.

Horn Book, November-December, 2004, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Skin Again, p. 698.

Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 1995, review of Art on My Mind, p. 534; November 15, 1998, review of Remembered Rapture: The Writer at Work; September 1, 2002, review of Be Boy Buzz, p. 1310; December 1, 2002, review of Homemade Love, p. 1769; August 15, 2004, review of Skin Again, p. 897.

Library Journal, December 1, 1981, Mary Biggs, review of Ain't I a Woman, p. 2326; March 15, 1985, p. 68; December, 1988, p. 126; July, 1992, p. 109; September 15, 1996, Ann Burns, review of Bone Black, p. 75; October 1, 1997, Ann Burns, review of Wounds of Passion, p. 94; March 15, 2000, Ann Burns, review of All about Love: New Visions, p. 112; November 1, 2000, Emily Joy Jones, review of Where We Stand: Class Matters, p. 104.

Ms., July, 1983, p. 24; October, 1985, Paula Giddings, review of Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center, p. 25.

Multicultural Review, April, 1992; March, 1993, Itibari M. Zulu, review of Black Looks: Race and Representation, p. 84.

New Directions for Women, January, 1992, p. 22.

New Statesman, October 22, 1982, p. 31; November 30, 1990, p. 39.

New York Times, November 13, 1997, Michel Marriott, "The Eye of the Storm," pp. F1, F4.

New York Times Book Review, February 29, 1993, D. Soyini Madison, review of Black Looks, p. 23; December 18, 1994, p. 27; September 17, 1995, p. 25; December 15, 1996, Thulani Davis, "Native Daughter," p. 32.

Phylon, March, 1983, p. 85.

Political Science Quarterly, spring, 1983, p. 84.

Progressive, March, 1991, p. 42.

Publishers Weekly, November 18, 1988, review of Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black, p. 72; November 22, 1991, p. 49; June 15, 1992, p. 95; July 19, 1999, review of Happy to Be Nappy, p. 194; September 30, 2002, review of Be Boy Buzz, p. 71; November 18, 2002, review of Homemade Love, p. 59; November 25, 2002, Robert Fleming, "Feminist Revolutionary Comes down to Earth" (interview), p. 54; November 10, 2003, review of We Real Cool, p. 49; October 18, 2004, review of Skin Again, p. 62.

Queen's Quarterly, summer, 1990, p. 318; November 7, 1994, review of Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom and Outlaw Culture: Resisting Representations, p. 70; September 22, 1997, review of Wounds of Passion, p. 64; July 19, 1999, review of Happy to Be Nappy, p. 194.

School Library Journal, March, 1997, Dottie Kraft, review of Bone Black, p. 217; November, 1999, Karen James, review of Happy to Be Nappy, p. 120; December, 2002, Amy Lilien-Harper, review of Homemade Love, p. 97; December, 2002, Anna DeWind Walls, review of Be Boy Buzz, p. 97; September, 2004, Grace Oliff, review of Skin Again, p. 162.

Sight and Sound, June, 1991, p. 36; May, 1997, p. 34.

Village Voice Literary Supplement, June, 1982, p. 10; December, 1992, p. 14; November, 1995, p. 19.

West Coast Review of Books, April, 1982, p. 51.

Women's Review of Books, February, 1985, P. Gabrielle Foreman, review of Feminist Theory, p. 3; September, 1991, p. 12; October, 1993, p. 12; March, 1995, p. 10.


Orlo Web site, http://www.teleport.com/∼orlo/be4/interview/bellhooks.html (May 10, 2006), interview with hooks.

Shambhala Sun Web site, http://www.shambhalasun.com/ (May 10, 2006), Pema Chödrön, interview with hooks.


bell hooks: Cultural Criticism and Transformation (film), Media Center Foundation, c. 1995.

Additional topics

Brief BiographiesBiographies: James Heneghan (1930-) Biography - Personal to Rick Jacobson Biography - Personal