Poet, Author Maya Angelou Dies At 86

Maya Angelou (Wake Forest University photo/file)

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (May 28, 2014) Author, poet and professor Maya Angelou, who rose from poverty, segregation and violence to become a force on stage, screen and the printed page, has died at the age of 86, Wake Forest University in a news release Wednesday.

Angelou died Wednesday morning at her home in Winston-Salem, N.C., where she had been a professor of American studies at Wake Forest University for more than three decades, her son, Guy B. Johnson, said.

She"lived a life as a teacher, activist, artist and human being" and served as "a warrior for equality, tolerance and peace," Johnson said.

A victim of rape at age 7, she didn't speak for years but was writing poetry at age 9 and became a mother by 17.

She eventually told her story in her memoir "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings."

Angelou won acclaim for the autobiography, making her one of the first African-American women to write a best-seller.

In 1998, she directed the film "Down in the Delta" about a drug-wrecked woman who returns to the home of her ancestors in the Mississippi Delta.

She was the poet chosen to read at President Bill Clinton's first inauguration in 1993.

She wrote and read an original composition, "On the Pulse of Morning," which became a million-seller.

“Maya Angelou has been a towering figure — at Wake Forest and in American culture. She had a profound influence in civil rights and racial reconciliation,” said Wake Forest President Nathan Hatch.

“We will miss profoundly her lyrical voice and always keen insights.”

President Barack Obama said Angelou’s death has dimmed "one of the brightest lights of our time."

He said he and First Lady Michelle Obama will cherish the time they spent with Angelou, who, he said, had the ability to remind us that we are all God's children and we all have something to offer.

Mr. Obama says Angelou was many things, but that above all she was a storyteller whose greatest stories were true.

Mr. Obama presented Angelou with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, in 2011.

Angelou inspired his mother to name his sister Maya, he said.