Maya Angelou, the Presidential Medal of Freedom-winning writer whose storied, prolific career stretched over five decades, has died at the age of 86. Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines confirmed the author’s death Wednesday morning, according to local North Carolina news station Fox 8.
Angelou was born in St. Louis, Mo., in 1928. Her tragic childhood — she was sexually assaulted at the age of eight by her mother’s boyfriend, who was later murdered after she testified against him, and as a result of the trauma Angelou didn’t speak for nearly a decade — is chronicled in Angelou’s work, most notably her 1969 autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Angelou wrote six additional autobiographies, as well as plays, screenplays, numerous speeches, and countless poems, including “On the Pulse of Morning,” which Angelou recited at President Bill Clinton’s first inauguration in 1993.
A full obituary of Angelou is in the works. In the meantime, take note of the poet’s final message, posted to her Twitter account May 23 — they’re appropriately evocative last words:
Listen to yourself and in that quietude you might hear the voice of God.—
Maya Angelou (@DrMayaAngelou) May 23, 2014