Legendary American poet Maya Angelou dead at 86

Dr. Maya Angelou speaks on race relations at Congregation B’nai Israel and Ebenezer Baptist Church on January 16, 2014 in Boca Raton, Florida.(Photo by Jeff Daly/Invision/AP)
Dr. Maya Angelou speaks on race relations at Congregation B’nai Israel and Ebenezer Baptist Church on January 16, 2014 in Boca Raton, Florida.(Photo by Jeff Daly/Invision/AP)

NEW YORK (AP) — Maya Angelou is being remembered as a modern Renaissance woman who survived the harshest of childhoods to become a force on stage, screen and the printed page.

She called herself a poet, telling The Associated Press last year that she was in love with the “sound of language.”

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.”

Honored by presidents with the National Medal of Arts and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Angelou recited the most popular presidential inaugural poem in history. Her poem “On the Pulse of the Morning” at President Bill Clinton’s 1993 inauguration became a best-seller.

Angelou’s son, Guy B. Johnson, says she “lived a life as a teacher, activist, artist and human being” and served as “a warrior for equality, tolerance and peace.”

Johnson says his mother died this morning at her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where she had been a professor of American studies at Wake Forest University for more than three decades. Maya Angelou was 86.

Angelou’s last tweet, posted Sunday: “Listen to yourself and in that quietude you might hear the voice of God.”

Presidential reaction

President Barack Obama said Wednesday that the death of poet and author Maya Angelou has dimmed “one of the brightest lights of our time.”

Obama said in a statement that he and first lady Michelle Obama will cherish the time they spent with Angelou.

He said Angelou had the ability to remind us that we are all God’s children and that we all have something to offer.

“Michelle and I join millions around the world in remembering one of the brightest lights of our time: a brilliant writer, a fierce friend and a truly phenomenal woman,” Obama said.

“Over the course of her remarkable life, Maya was many things: an author, poet, civil rights activist, playwright, actress, director, composer, singer and dancer. But above all, she was a storyteller, and her greatest stories were true.”

Obama said “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.”

He presented Angelou with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, in 2011, and said the poet had inspired his mother to name his sister Maya.

Angelou died at her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She was 86.

Former President Bill Clinton said her death meant that “America has lost a national treasure, and Hillary and I, a beloved friend.”

“The poems and stories she wrote and read to us in her commanding voice were gifts of wisdom and wit, courage and grace,” Clinton said.

Clinton said he will remain forever grateful for Angelou’s “electrifying reading” of “On the Pulse of Morning” at his first inauguration in 1993, and for the years of friendship that followed.

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