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The Black writer who helped pave the path for intersectional feminism is honored

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The Black writer who helped pave the path for intersectional feminism has a new street dedicated to her. Bell hooks wrote more than 40 books on race, sex, gender and film. The late writer was remembered in her Kentucky hometown of Hopkinsville during Women's History Month. Derek Operle from member station WKMS reports.

DEREK OPERLE, BYLINE: Born Gloria Jean Watkins, bell hooks took her unique lowercase pen name from her maternal great-grandmother. She's perhaps best known for writing that feminism is for everybody. Her sister, Gwenda Motley, says home was never far from her mind.

GWENDA MOTLEY: She liked to sometimes refer to herself as a hometown girl. And people - what does that mean? Well, it meant that she never lost where she came from.

OPERLE: Since hooks' death in 2021, Motley has been working with women in Hopkinsville to preserve her legacy. She says the street that now bears her sister's pen name in all lowercase, bell hooks way, runs by the former Carnegie Library that stoked her sister's passion for learning.

MOTLEY: That place and the books it held stretched our imagination and our intellect.

OPERLE: A few blocks away at the Pennyroyal Area Museum, more than 100 people gathered for the dedication of the street and the bell hooks Legacy Room. It holds furniture, books and art from the writer's personal collection.

FRANCENE GILMER: Love empowers us to live fully and die well. Death becomes, then, not an end to life but a part of living. Bell's passing has provided pathways for her legacy to live on and on and on.

OPERLE: That's Francene Gilmer, a member of the bell hooks Legacy Group, quoting from the writer's "All About Love: New Visions." She's hopeful that hooks' words can inspire a new generation. Outside the museum, 19-year-old Jada Poindexter says they already have. She placed second in a writing contest held in hooks' memory.

JADA POINDEXTER: I feel like diving into more of her work - it's definitely made me become more open-minded. It makes me want to be a better person, honestly.

OPERLE: And that, Motley says, is all her sister wanted.

MOTLEY: It was just overwhelmingly wonderful and amazing to know that our own sister, that we just refer to as Gloria Jean, had touched the world in the way that she did.

OPERLE: Hooks' writings are full of poetry, some for children, some fit for a college classroom and some for hard conversations. Motley says her sister's words will live on in the hearts and minds of readers for generations to come.

For NPR News, I'm Derek Operle in Hopkinsville, Ky.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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