Maya Angelou, the poet, author and activist generally considered one of America's finest writers of the last 50 years, has died. She was 86. Angelou is perhaps best known for her ground-breaking 1969 memoir I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, the first of seven volumes of autobiography that traced Angelou's childhood of abuse in the Deep South in the 1930s.

Maya AngelouMaya Angelou Has Died

A statement from Wake Forest University, where the author had been professor of American studies since 1982, said: "Dr Angelou was a national treasure whose life and teachings inspired millions around the world."

The Harry Potter author JK Rowling tweeted one of Angelou's most famous quotes in tribute: "'If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be.' Maya Angelou - who was utterly amazing."

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Maya - real name Marguerite - was born in 1928, the second child of a doorman father Bailey and nurse and card dealer mother Vivian. When Angelou turned three, her parents' marriage ended and she was sent away to live with her paternal grandmother Annie Henderson, in Stamps, Arkansas. Angelou wrote about being raped by her mother's boyfriend at the age of eight. She became a singer, dancer, cocktail waitress and prostitute before beginning her writing career.

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings spent two years on the US best-seller list. Various poetry collections followed, including Just Give Me A Cool Drink of Water 'Fore I Diiie (1971) and And Still I Rise (1978) and her poem Pulse of the Morning, written for President Bill Clinton's first inauguration, sold more than a million copies in the US. 

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Angelou gave birth to her son Clyde - who would later change his name to Guy Johnson and become a writer. After being told he would never walk again following a car accident, Guy begged his mother to end his life. He was left temporarily paralyzed from the neck down after the crash in his late 20s.

Johnson would eventually recover and was able to walk out of the hospital, however, he still suffers from the side effects of his injuries. 

Maya Angelou's death was confirmed by her long-time literary agent Helen Brann. No immediate cause of death has been confirmed, though it is know that Ms Angelou has been in frail health for some time following heart problems.