In honor of Black History Month, The Badger Herald is highlighting distinguished Black University of Wisconsin alumni. More than 300 individuals are recognized by the Wisconsin Alumni Association, 30 of which are Black. These alumni are lauded today for their contributions.
Gloria Jean Watkins — more famously known by her pseudonym bell hooks — was a writer, creator and visionary even at a young age. Of her more than 30 published books, most were written when she was 19 years old, including the renowned Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism.
Hooks was born into a working class family in a segregated Kentucky community. She adopted her pen name from her maternal grandmother, Bell Blair Hooks.
Hooks was always an avid reader, writer and learner. She completed her undergraduate degree at Stanford University before coming to the University of Wisconsin for her master’s degree in English in 1976. She later went on to complete her PhD at the University of California-Santa Cruz.
“I think of public intellectuals as very different, because I think that they’re airing their work for that public engagement,” hooks told The New York Times. “Really, in all the years of my writing that was not my intention. It was to produce theory that people could use.”
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As an writer, her publications span a broad range of themes, including gender, race, class, spirituality, teaching and the significance of media in contemporary culture.
She draws inspiration from abolitionists, feminists, educators and civil rights activists from recent and past history.
“When I look at my career as a thinker and a writer, what is so amazing is that I have a dissenting voice and that I was able to come into corporate publishing and bring that dissenting voice with me,” hooks told the Wisconsin Alumni Association.
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Hooks has also written memoirs, poetry, and children’s books interested in boosting self esteem.
Her work as an acclaimed intellectual, feminist theorist, cultural critic, artist and author have made a lasting impact on the UW campus, its surrounding community and the wider world. Hooks continues to inspire and share her voice by teaching and speaking to large audiences around the nation.