Author, poet, rights activist Maya Angelou dies at 86

Wed May 28, 2014 3:37pm EDT
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By Colleen Jenkins and Bill Trott

WINSTON-SALEM N.C. (Reuters) - American author and poet Maya Angelou, whose groundbreaking memoir "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" earned her international acclaim with its unflinching account of rape and racism in the segregated South, died on Wednesday at age 86.

The prolific African-American writer, known for her lyrical prose and regal speaking voice, died quietly at her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Angelou's family said in a statement. No cause of death was given.

Major League Baseball had planned to honor her in Houston on Friday as part of the Civil Rights Game festivities, but Angelou announced last week that she would be unable to attend due to health reasons.

Angelou, who was also a civil rights activist, playwright, actress, singer, dancer and professor during her varied career, penned more than 30 books and won numerous awards, including the country's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, from President Barack Obama in 2011.

Her latest work, "Mom & Me & Mom," about her mother and grandmother and what they taught her, was released last year. In her last tweet on May 23, Angelou said, "Listen to yourself and in that quietude you might hear the voice of God."

Literary and entertainment figures, politicians and fans mourned her passing on Wednesday.

Obama said his sister, Maya, was named for the author, whom he called "a brilliant writer, a fierce friend and a truly phenomenal woman."

"A childhood of suffering and abuse actually drove her to stop speaking – but the voice she found helped generations of Americans find their rainbow amidst the clouds, and inspired the rest of us to be our best selves," Obama said in a statement.   Continued...

Maya Angelou receives a Medal of Freedom from U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House in Washington, February 15, 2011. REUTERS/Larry Downing