Maya Angelou, an acclaimed poet and author whose words inspired generations of Americans, passed away on May 28 at her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She was 86. 

“Dr. Maya Angelou passed quietly in her home before 8 a.m. EST," a statement from her family reads. "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.”

While lovingly referred to as Dr. Angelou, she never actually went to college. It was her work as an author and celebrated poet that moved universities and colleges around the world to bestow her with over 50 honorary degrees. At the time of her passing, she was also a Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University. 

“Maya Angelou has been a towering figure — at Wake Forest and in American culture. She had a profound influence in civil rights and racial reconciliation. We will miss profoundly her lyrical voice and always keen insights,” Wake Forest University President Nathan O. Hatch said on Wednesday.

Of all her works, Angelou was best know for her 1969 autobiography "I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings," a book that covered her experiences with racism, teenage pregnancy and sexual abuse. She was also extremely active in the civil rights movement, working alongside other notables such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. In 1993, Angelou recited her poem "On the Pulse of Morning" at the inauguration of President Bill Clinton, becoming the first poet to make an inaugural recitation since Robert Frost. All this, and she was also a successful dancer, singer, foreign journalist, actress with TV, film, and Broadway credits, and a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

In one of her more famous quotes she said: "You are the sum total of everything you've ever seen, heard, eaten, smelled, been told, forgot — it's all there. Everything influences each of us, and because of that I try to make sure that my experiences are positive."

For more on this life well-lived, check out an interview between Angelou and George Stroumboulopoulos from December 2013 below. 


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Michael d'Estries ( @michaeldestries ) covers science, technology, art, and the beautiful, unusual corners of our incredible world.

Civil rights activist and renowned poet Maya Angelou passes away
86-year-old legend was also an accomplished actress, author and director.