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Maya Angelou, Famed Poet and Author, Dead at 86

The poet, author, and civil rights icon was found unresponsive in her home

Maya Angelou, a towering icon of literature and the civil rights movement, has died at the age of 86.

The poet was found in her Winston Salem home early Wednesday.

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Best known for her memoir “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” which was published in 1970 Angelou ultimately wrote six autobiographies and many books of poetry, giving her a total of 30 books published.

Much of Angelou’s fame came from her work, over the course of over 60 years, on  civil rights issues; her fight and advocacy bridged the years of Martin Luther King, Jr. and John F. Kennedy to the era of Barack Obama, who honored her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011.

In addition to being a frequent guest on television shows, Angelou’s links to the entertainment industry include becoming the first African-American woman to write a produced screenplay, “Georgia, Georgia” in 1972.

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Born in Missouri and raised in rural Arkansas, she first left home to study dance in San Francisco. By age 16, she was the city’s first woman street car conductor, beginning a lifetime of trailblazing. Her life was filled with enough turmoil, tragedy, and perseverance by the age of 17 to fill “Mockingbird,” which she published at the age of 40.

Angelou received worldwide exposure when she read the poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at the 1993 inauguration of President Bill Clinton. She also worked for years as a professor at Wake Forest University.

Angelou’s family issued a statement Wednesday morning on Facebook:

Dr. Maya Angelou passed quietly in her home before 8:00 a.m. EST. Her family is extremely grateful that her ascension was not belabored by a loss of acuity or comprehension. She lived a life as a teacher, activist, artist and human being. She was a warrior for equality, tolerance and peace. The family is extremely appreciative of the time we had with her and we know that she is looking down upon us with love.

Directors Guild of America President Paris Barclay made the following statement upon learning of the passing of Angelou:

“Today we mourn the loss of a tremendous storyteller, but we rejoice in the knowledge that her stories and images will comfort and inspire us forever,” said Barclay. “Dr. Angelou first joined the DGA in 1975, becoming one of the first African American female members of the DGA. Never one to shy away from new experiences, she went on to make her feature directing debut at the age of 70. The DGA had the great pleasure of honoring Dr. Angelou in 2004 at our African American Steering Committee’s ‘Tribute to Dr. Maya Angelou: Master Storyteller.’

“On a personal note, one of my earliest professional directing jobs was helming an adaptation of one of her short stories; her provocative words and passionate voice continue to echo in my head. We are proud to count her among our ranks.”