Maya Angelou, the renowned poet, author and civil rights activist, has died at the age of 86, Variety has confirmed.
Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines told the local Fox affiliate that Angelou was found unresponsive by her caretaker on Wednesday morning. The Winston-Salem Journal reports that a hearse with a police escort pulled away from Angelou’s home around 9 a.m. local time.
“She lived a life as a teacher, activist, artist and human being. She was a warrior for equality, tolerance and peace,” Angelou’s family said in a statement. “The family is extremely appreciative of the time we had with her and we know that she is looking down upon us with love.”
Angelou was best known for her coming-of-age autobiography “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings.” The 1969 book provided an unflinching look at racism, teenage pregnancy and sexual abuse and was nominated for a National Book Award. It has become a staple in high school classrooms.
Greater prominence arrived after the author was tapped to read her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at the 1993 inauguration of President Bill Clinton. She was only the second person in history to be asked to read an original poem at the gathering, a distinction she shared with Robert Frost.
The poem helped capture the energy and hope personified by the youthful leader, closing with the words, “Here on the pulse of this new day, you may have the grace to look up and out and into your sister’s eyes, into your brother’s face, your country and say simply, very simply, with hope, good morning.”
Angelou’s recitation of her poem earned her a Grammy Award, one of three she would win for her spoken word performances.
In a career that spanned five decades, she would write seven autobiographies, three books of essays, poems, plays and film scripts.
In 2011, she was awarded with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.
Hers was a peripatetic career that would see her directing films, acting on Broadway, singing calypso, dancing with Martha Graham and Alvin Ailey, and working alongside friends and Civil Rights icons such as James Baldwin, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.
Born in St. Louis in 1928, Angelou was ferried between her grandmother’s house in Arkansas and her mother’s home in Missouri. Segregation and neglect were among the defining traits of a difficult childhood that ended with Angelou becoming a single mother at 17.
Twice married, to Greek electrician Tosh Angelos in 1951 and to carpenter Paul du Feu in 1973, Angelou had one son, Guy, one grandson, and two great-grandchildren.