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Prolific author, critic and activist bell hooks dies at 69

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

The writer and path-setting activist bell hooks died yesterday at her home in Kentucky. She was 69 years old. Bell hooks thought deeply about love, what it is and why we need it. NPR's Andrew Limbong has this appreciation of the scholar.

ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: We'll get into bell hooks' work as a critic and academic in a bit. But first, I just wanted to read to you some of her poetry. This is an excerpt from her book "Appalachian Elegy." Then it goes like this. (Reading) Such then is beauty surrendered against all hope. You are here again, turning slowly. Nature as chameleon, all life change and changing again - awakening hearts steady moving from unnamed loss into fierce, deep grief that can bear all burdens, even the long passage into a shadowy dark where no light enters.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SPEAKING FREELY")

BELL HOOKS: I always think that part of the genius of bell hooks, such as it is...

LIMBONG: That's bell hooks talking about her own writing on a talk show called "Speaking Freely" from 2002.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SPEAKING FREELY")

HOOKS: ...Is that I bring together standpoints that are often not brought together in our nation, you know?

LIMBONG: The breadth of her writing was wide. And it covered history, sex, grief, religion, memory and more.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SPEAKING FREELY")

HOOKS: So I'm always bringing together diverse ways of knowing.

LIMBONG: Bell hooks was born Gloria Jean Watkins in Kentucky in 1952. Her 1981 book "Ain't I A Woman?" became a foundational feminist text, as it clearly laid out the intertwined forces oppressing Black women - racism, sexism, classism. But her work, including her poetry, was always imbued with a sense of hope. In 2003, she talked to NPR about the importance of being aware of these forces but not dwelling on them.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

HOOKS: Because obviously, if we only fixate on any form of oppression or any pain, then we really lose sight of the totality of who we are. We're always more than our pain.

LIMBONG: One of her most popular works was her book "All About Love." And in 2000, she went on WAMU's "Diane Rehm Show" and explained her definitional problem with love.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "THE DIANE REHM SHOW")

HOOKS: This book is actually dedicated to an ex-boyfriend of mine who's much younger. And we found ourselves quarrelling again and again about love because we didn't have a shared sense of what we even meant when we talked about the term.

LIMBONG: Like all of her work, the book is clear-eyed about the systemic hurdles to loving each other and ourselves. But it opens with bell hooks talking about a phrase she had hung up on her kitchen wall. The search for love continues even in the face of great odds.

Andrew Limbong, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF ROBERT GLASPER'S "Y'OUTTA PRAISE HIM (INTRO)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.