Iconic American author, poet and journalist Maya Angelou died on May 28. Angelou was 86 years old and had been unwell for some time, canceling a number of recent appearances.  According to a statement released by her family she was found by her nurse.

Maya Angelou DeathAuthor Maya Angelou has died aged 86 years old

Born in 1928, Angelou spent her young years in Arkansas, shuffling between the homes of her mother and her grandmother. In these formative years she experienced life as a black girl living under white laws, and as a child dreamed of waking up to find herself white, with a blonde bob, as she believed white girls had it easier than black girls.

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Aged 8 Angelou was raped by her mother’s boyfriend, an act that affected her so extremely that she was a virtual mute for the next 6 years of her life. Although psychologically traumatised by the experience, she became determined to gain her independence and regain her womanhood. At 16 years old she gave birth to her only child, a son called Guy.

After travelling through Europe and Africa in the early 60s she returned to New York City, where she became a member of the Harlem Writers Guild. She became a writer and poet after several occupations, including a nightclub dancer, prostitute and fry cook. As well as her participation with the writers guild, Angelou also became involved in black activism, before spending a few years in Ghana working as the editor of the African Review.

In 1970 she bought out the first book in her five-volume autobiography, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” The book was met with critical success and became popular around the world. The books which followed, “All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes” (1986), “My Painted House” (1994), “My Friendly Chicken and Me” (1994) were all highly praised and extremely popular. Her collection of poetry, “Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘Fore I Die,” published in 1971, was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.

Maya Angelou DeathAngelou had been unwell for some time before her death and had cancelled a number of recent appearances

Angelou spoke a number of languages proficiently and received over 30 honorary doctorates from universities around the world. She will be remembered for her contribution to the world of literature, her wisdom and her work to tackle and end racism. After receiving the lifetime Reynolds Professorship of American Studies at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem she considered herself “a teacher who writes,” and her works have educated people across the world and will continue to do so for many years to come.

MORE: Tributes pour in for Maya Angelou