From reimagining the classroom to tearing down imposter syndrome, author, critic and fierce public intellectual bell hooks inspired women of color across generations to create a world in which all are free to reach their potential.

Born Gloria Jean Watkins in rural, segregated Kentucky, hooks graduated from Stanford University in 1974 with a degree in English literature. Throughout the course of her career, she wrote dozens of books under the name she adopted to honor her maternal great-grandmother. Each one helped cement her reputation as a great thinker, a woman whose observations about education, race and love would earn iconic status among the many students she taught through the years and the hordes of other college and graduate students assigned her work.

“To me the classroom continues to be a place where paradise can be realized, a place of passion and possibility, a place where spirit matters, where all that we learn and know leads us into greater connection, into greater understanding of life lived in community,” she wrote in her 2003 book, Teaching Community, a Pedagogy of Hope.

A feminist scholar and social activist, hooks was most recently a distinguished professor in residence in Appalacian studies at Berea College. She died Dec. 15 at age 69 after an extended illness, the Kentucky university announced.

Stephanie J. Hull is the president and CEO of Girls Inc., a national organization that serves — through programing and advocacy — more than 132,000 girls through a network of 80 local organizations across the U.S. and Canada. She was first introduced to hooks in graduate school at Harvard and later taught some of her work at Dartmouth.

“I never read or heard anything from her that I didn’t admire,” Hull said of hooks. “What she spoke was important. What she wrote was important. Her way of thinking and her approach was so transformative … and so challenging — but in a very productive way.”

Read the full article about the impact of bell hooks by Jo Napolitano at The 74.