A Quick Look At Maya Angelou's Life And Legacy

The celebrated poet, author and civil rights activist passed away on Wednesday in her North Carolina home.

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Maya Angelou, a renowned poet, novelist and actress whose work defied description under a simple label died Wednesday morning. She was 86-year-old.

RIP Maya

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Maya Angelou, the American poet and author, died at her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina on Wednesday. She was 86. The news was confirmed to the Guardian by an assistant to Winston-Salem mayor Allen Joines.

Angelou recently cancelled a scheduled appearance at the 2014 MLB Beacon Award Luncheon, where she was to be honored with the Beacon of Life Award, due to health problems.

A professor, singer and dancer, Maya's work spans several professions. In 2011, President Obama awarded her with the Medal of Freedom, America's highest civilian honour.

President Obama kisses author and poet Maya Angelou after awarding her the 2010 Medal of Freedom during a ceremony at the White House in Washington in February, 2011.

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Angelou has been honored with more than 50 awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, for her collected works of poetry, fiction and nonfiction, including her groundbreaking memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which made history as one of the first nonfiction best-sellers by an African-American woman.

Her last tweet, posted on May 23, read:

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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

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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 Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., 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 multipart 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 favorite. For former President George W. Bush, she read another poem, “Amazing Peace,” at the 2005 Christmas tree lighting ceremony at the White House.

WATCH: Maya recite her poem "On the Pulse of Morning" at the 1993 Presidential Inaugural

Affectionately referred to as Dr. Angelou, the professor never went to college

Legendary author Maya Angelou dies

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She has more than 30 honorary degrees and taught American studies for years at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem. "I created myself," she has said. "I have taught myself so much."

Angelou spoke at least six languages, and worked at one time as a newspaper editor in Egypt and Ghana. During that period, she wrote "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," launching the first in a series of autobiographical books.

"I want to write so well that a person is 30 or 40 pages in a book of mine ... before she realizes she's reading," Angelou said. She was also one of the first black women film directors. Her work on Broadway has been nominated for Tony Awards.

RIP Maya Angelou

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