Her works included the influential 1981 book Ain't I a Woman? Black Women and Feminism.
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bell hooks, the trailblazing author, educator, and critic who indelibly shaped conversations about race and gender in the U.S., died Wednesday at her home in Kentucky from an undisclosed illness. She was 69.

Berea College, where hooks taught, confirmed her death and said it was "deeply saddened" by the loss.

Born Gloria Jean Watkins on Sept. 25, 1952, in Hopkinsville, Ky., hooks took on her pen name as a tribute to her great-grandmother Bell Blair Hooks. She published her first book, Ain't I a Woman? Black Women and Feminism, in 1981 and went on to publish dozens more titles over the course of her career, including essays, poetry, and children's books, that examined race, gender, class, spirituality, and more.

bell hooks
bell hooks
| Credit: Karjean Levine/Getty Images

hooks joined the faculty at Berea, a private liberal arts college in her native Kentucky, in 2004. The school opened the bell hooks center, an inclusive hub that houses her books and other works of art, this past fall.

"The bell hooks Institute at Berea College will continue to be a valuable and informative beacon to her life's work, continuing to remind humans that life is all about love," the school said in its statement Wednesday. "In her words, 'To love well is the task in all meaningful relationships, not just romantic bonds.'"

hooks' writing inspired and influenced many artists and leaders of today. Patrisse Cullors, the activist and co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, told EW last year that hooks' books informed much of her young-adult life, and the author's works have appeared on countless feminist reading lists.

hooks was also renowned for her cultural analyses, notably penning a critical examination of Beyoncé's visual album Lemonade in 2016. She called the album "capitalist money-making at its best" and praised it for reclaiming Black female bodies from the gaze of "white mainstream culture," but argued that the work ultimately didn't "truly overshadow or change conventional sexist constructions" of Black female identity.

hooks wasn't above delivering more humorous critiques, including her thoughts on the public fixation on butts while in conversation with actress and LBGTQ+ advocate Laverne Cox for the New School's series of public dialogues in 2014.

"Pussies are out. It's bootylicious all the way," hooks said. "I have had an ironing-board butt all my life, so I never came into the drooling-over-the-ass thing."

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