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Legendary author, poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou dies

U.S. author, poet and civil right activist Maya Angelou, who had been battling health problems in recent times, has died at age 86 at her home in North Carolina

New York: Maya Angelou, who rose from poverty, segregation and the harshest of childhoods to become a force on stage, screen, the printed page and the inaugural dais, has died. She was 86.

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. 

Maya Angelou
In this 1997 pic, Coretta Scott King (L), widow of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., and Maya Angelou speak to members of the media after visiting Betty Shabazz, the widow of slain civil rights activist Malcom X, at Jacobi Hospital in the Bronx, New York. Pic/AFP

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.

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 favourite.

For former President George W Bush, she read another poem, "Amazing Peace," at the 2005 Christmas tree lighting ceremony at the White House.

She remained close enough to the Clintons that in 2008 she supported Hillary Rodham Clinton's candidacy over the ultimately successful run of the country's first black president, Barack Obama.

But a few days before Obama's inauguration, she was clearly overjoyed. She told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette she would be watching it on television "somewhere between crying and praying and being grateful and laughing when I see faces I know."

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 programme.

Angelou, who was born on April 4, 1928, in St. Louis, Missouri, as Marguerite Annie Johnson, had an impressive list of accolades. She was a singer, dancer, actress, writer and Hollywood's first female black director who has won three-time Grammies, was nominated for a Pulitzer, a Tony, an an Emmy for her role in the groundbreaking television mini-series "Roots."

She was also San Francisco's first African-American female cable car conductor.

She mastered several languages and published not just poetry, but advice books, cookbooks and children's stories. She wrote music, plays and screenplays and never lost her passion for dance, the art she considered closest to poetry.

"The line of the dancer: If you watch (Mikhail) Baryshnikov and you see that line, that's what the poet tries for. 

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