By Sky News US Team
American author, poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou has died at the age of 86.
She died on Wednesday in her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, her family said.
“Her family is extremely grateful that her ascension was not belaboured by a loss of acuity or comprehension,” a family statement said.
“She lived a life as a teacher, activist, artist and human being. She was a warrior for equality, tolerance and peace.
“The family is extremely appreciative of the time we had with her and we know that she is looking down upon us with love.”
Ms Angelou became one of the first black women to write a best-seller, her 1970 autobiography, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings.
But she thrived in virtually every artistic medium, performing as an actress, singer and dancer in the 1950s and 1960s.
Her story fascinated millions of Americans – starting as a single mother who worked at strip clubs before becoming an acclaimed performer and celebrated poet.
“I’m not modest,” she told The AP news agency last year.
“Modesty is a learned behaviour. But I do pray for humility, because humility comes from the inside out.”
Barack Obama called Ms Angelou “one of the brightest lights of our time”, whose voice “helped generations of Americans find their rainbow amidst the clouds.”
He said: “With a kind word and a strong embrace, she had the ability to remind us that we are all God’s children; that we all have something to offer.”
Over the course of her career, Ms Angelou provided eloquent commentary on race and gender.
She befriended US presidents and such influential cultural figures as Malcolm X, Nelson Mandela and the Rev Martin Luther King Jr.
The renowned poet was chosen to read at Bill Clinton’s first inauguration in 1993, where she recited On The Pulse Of The Morning.
For George W Bush, she read another poem, Amazing Peace, at the 2005 White House Christmas tree lighting ceremony.
In 1998, she directed the film Down In The Delta about a drug-wrecked woman who returns to the home of her ancestors in the Mississippi Delta.
Born Marguerite Johnson in St Louis, Ms Angelou was raised by her parents and grandmother, often moving between Stamps, Arkansas, and San Francisco.
She was raped at age seven by her mother’s boyfriend and did not talk for years, choosing to learn by reading and listening.
“I loved the poetry that was sung in the black church: ‘Go down Moses, way down in Egypt’s land’,” she told The AP.
“And then I started reading, really reading, at about seven and a half, because a woman in my town took me to the library – a black school library. … And I read every book, even if I didn’t understand it.”
Ms Angelou remained active late in life. She was a fixture on the lecture circuit, giving commencement speeches and addressing academic and corporate events.
She received dozens of honorary degrees, and several elementary schools were named for her.