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Author and poet Maya Angelou has died at the age of 86

29 May 2014, 06:35

New York - Maya Angelou, a modern Renaissance woman who survived the harshest of childhoods to become a force on stage, screen, the printed page and the inaugural dais, has died.

Her death was confirmed in a statement issued by Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where she had served as a professor of American Studies since 1982.

According to reports Dr Angelou, who received more than 30 honorary degrees in her lifetime from universities around the world, was recovering from an “unexpected ailment” when she passed away. A caretaker found the 86-year-old author dead at her home in Winston-Salem on Wednesday morning.

She was set to be honoured with the Beacon of Life Award at the 2014 MLB Beacon Award Luncheon on 30 May in Houston.

Tall and regal, with a deep, majestic voice, Angelou defied all probability and category, becoming one of the first black women to enjoy mainstream success as an author and thriving in virtually every artistic medium.

A friend of Nelson Mandela:

The young single mother who performed at strip clubs to earn a living later wrote and recited the most popular presidential inaugural poem in history. The childhood victim of rape wrote a million-selling memoir, befriended Malcolm X, Nelson Mandela and the Reverend Martin Luther King, jnr, and performed on stages around the world.

An actress, singer and dancer in the 1950s and 1960s, she broke through as an author in 1970 with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which became standard (and occasionally censored) reading, and was the first of a multi-part autobiography that continued through the decades.

In 1993, she was a sensation reading her cautiously hopeful On the Pulse of the Morning at former President Bill Clinton's first inauguration.

Her confident performance openly delighted Clinton and made the poem a best-seller, if not a critical favourite. For former President George W Bush, she read another poem, Amazing Peace, at the 2005 Christmas tree lighting ceremony at the White House.

A mentor to Oprah:

She was a mentor to Oprah Winfrey, whom she befriended when Winfrey was still a local television reporter, and often appeared on her friend's talk show program. She mastered several languages and published not just poetry, but advice books, cookbooks and children's stories.

She wrote music, plays and screenplays, received an Emmy nomination for her acting in Roots, and never lost her passion for dance, the art she considered closest to poetry.

J.K. Rowling's touching tweet:

J K Rowling, author of the Harry Potter fantasy series, was one of the first public figures to react to the news of Angelou's death. She tweeted; "If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be. Maya Angelou - who was utterly amazing."

- AP


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