Activist, poet, author Maya Angelou dead at 86

Civil rights activist, poet and author Dr. Maya Angelou has died at the age of 86. She was the first African-American woman to write a best-seller.

Wake Forest University, where Angelou had been the Reynolds Professor of American Studies since 1982, announced Angelou's death in a news release Wednesday:

"Today members of the Wake Forest University community mourn the loss of beloved poet, author, actress, civil rights activist and professor Dr. Maya Angelou. Dr. Angelou was a national treasure whose life and teachings inspired millions around the world, including countless students, faculty, and staff at Wake Forest....Our thoughts and prayers are with Dr. Angelou’s family and friends during this difficult time."

The mayor of Winston-Salem, N.C., Allen Joines confirmed that Angelou was found unresponsive by her caretaker. The literary legend had reportedly been battling ongoing health problems and recently canceled an appearance at the 2014 MLB Beacon Awards Luncheon, where she was being honored, due to ill health. She canceled an event Arkansas last month because she was recovering from an "unexpected ailment."

Born on April 4, 1928 in St. Louis, the I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings author played a significant role in the Civil Rights Movement and was asked by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to serve as a northern coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Ms. Angelou's work encompassed poetry, autobiographies, essays, plays and teleplays. In her lifetime, she received more than 50 honorary degrees.


AP contributed to this story