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Maya Angelou passes away at 86

May 28, 2014

Poet, writer and nationally acclaimed speaker Maya Angelou passed away May 28 at the age of 86. Angelou is one of the most influential writers of the 20th and 21st centuries, producing collections of poetry, memoirs and essays that have been widely praised by critics, educators and literature enthusiasts alike. 

Although Angelou's health may have been declining in the past several years, the 86-year-old novelist remained an active voice in the African-American and senior communities. Leaders and literature fans from around the world have expressed their condolences to Angelou's family and friends, including President Barack Obama, who issued an official statement about her passing.

Over the course of her life, Angelou published dozens of works, won three Grammys, worked alongside prominent African-American leaders including Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, and earned the Presidential Medal of Freedom. 

A look back at Angelou's greatest works
Angelou gained the greatest amount of press for her memoir, "I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings." The nonfiction novel chronicles her childhood in the Jim Crow South, where Angelou fought racism, class struggles and homelessness during her youth. The book was published in 1969, and was nominated for a National Book Award.

In addition to her written publications, Angelou was an important presence in the entertainment industry during her early adulthood. According to CNN, Angelou recorded an album in 1957, and went on to star in a number of theatrical productions. She even acted in the 1977 mini-series "Roots" as Kunta Kinte's grandmother. 

Appreciating Angelou's lifetime achievements
Aside from long-lasting friendships with some of the country's most influential leaders and public figures, Angelou received recognitions from several universities, institutions and organizations for her spirit, achievements and actions. CNN reported that at the time of her passing, Angelou held more than 30 honorary degrees and taught American studies at Wake Forest University - despite the fact that she never attended college herself. Nathan O. Hatch, the president of Wake Forest, explained that Angelou's influence on the country and its citizens could not be denied.

"Maya Angelou has been a towering figure ... at Wake Forest and in American culture," Hatch said, as quoted by CNN. "She had a profound influence in civil rights and racial reconciliation. We will miss profoundly her lyrical voice and always keen insights."

Angelou spent her later years traveling and speaking to groups of students, community members and leaders across the world, always spreading her knowledge and passions.