By Julissa Catalan
Dr. Maya Angelou, celebrated author, educator and civil-rights activist, has died at the age of 86.
According to Winston-Salem, N.C., Mayor Allen Joines, Angelou was found this morning by a caretaker in her North Carolina home following a week of battling recent health complications. In the last month, Angelou canceled what would have been her final appearances due to “health reasons.”
After meeting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1960, Angelou became involved in the civil-rights movement by forming the Cabaret for Freedom to benefit the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), becoming the conference’s Northern Coordinator.
She also worked closely with Malcolm X in the early 1960s, forming the Organization of Afro-American Unity with him. It was around this same time that she also began her work as a pro-Castro and anti-apartheid activist.
Best known for penning I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, the first volume of a seven-part autobiography, Angelou also wrote three books of essays and multiple poetry compilations.
She wrote, directed and acted in a number of plays, television shows and movies—most notably making history as the first Black female to direct a major motion picture with 1998’s Down in the Delta. Her screenplay for Georgia, Georgia was also the first original script to be produced by a Black woman.
Angelou was a Pulitzer, Emmy and Tony award nominee, and a three-time Grammy winner.
In 1993, Angelou recited her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at President Bill Clinton’s inauguration, becoming the first poet to read at an inauguration since Robert Frost at John F. Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961.
She has received more than 50 honorary degrees and was the first to receive the lifetime Reynolds Professorship of American Studies at Wake Forest University, where she taught beginning in 1982.
In 2011, President Barack Obama presented Angelou with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Angelou was born Marguerite Ann Johnson on April 4, 1928, in St. Louis. She is survived by her only son, Guy Johnson, a poet and novelist.