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Legendary Author Maya Angelou dies at 86

One of America's leading literary voices of the last 50 years, Angelou was best-known for her 1969 memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

It was the first of seven volumes of autobiography that traced her life from a childhood of abuse and oppression in the Deep South in the 1930s.

The news was confirmed to the BBC by the mayor's office in her home town of Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Mayor Allen Joines said he was "very sad of her passing".

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

Harry Potter author JK Rowling tweeted one of Angelou's 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."

Raised by her grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas, Angelou wrote about being raped by her mother's boyfriend at the age of eight. After she told her family what had happened, the boyfriend was killed.

"I thought my voice had killed him, so it was better not to speak - so I simply stopped speaking," she said. She remained mute for five years.

Angelou later became a singer, dancer, cocktail waitress, prostitute and an actress before beginning her writing career.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which dealt with the racism and family trauma of her upbringing, spent two years on the US best-seller list.

Her career also straddled television, theatre, film, children's books and music.

Her poetry collections included Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water 'fore I Diiie (1971), And Still I Rise (1978), Now Sheba Sings the Song (1987), and I Shall Not Be Moved (1990).

Her poem On the Pulse of the Morning, written for US President Bill Clinton's first inauguration, sold more than a million copies in the US.

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