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May 29, 2014 08:31 AM EDT

Wake Forest Fondly Remembers Dr. Maya Angelou as a Beloved Teacher and Mentor

The death of Dr. Maya Angelou, a renowned poet and civil rights activist, has certainly shocked the literary world.

Aged 86, Angelou died at her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, on May 28. Helen Brann, Angelou's literary agent, said that the actress had been "frail" and was suffering from heart problems, CNN reports.

The life and teachings of Dr. Angelou has not only been an inspiration to millions around the world, but also to students and faculty at the Wake Forest University, where the award-winning author served as Reynolds Professor of American Studies since 1982.

In the past four decades, Dr. Angelou served as a role model to those aspiring to become a better writer, thinker and citizen. Generations of students lived richer lives under her teaching and guidance.

This fall, Dr. Angelou was scheduled to teach a class titled "Race, Gender and Culture in the South, U.S. and Beyond", myfox8 reported.

"Maya Angelou has been a towering figure - at Wake Forest and in American culture. She had a profound influence in civil rights and racial reconciliation," said President Nathan Hatch in a statement. "We will miss profoundly her lyrical voice and keen insights."

The WFU expressed their condolences to Dr. Angelou's family and friends.

Dr. Angelou is perhaps well-known for her 1969 autobiography - "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" - that got her worldwide attention and appreciation. The book tells the story of the African-American writer's (Marguerite Ann Johnson - Angelou's birth name) early years: how she was abandoned by her parents, raped by her mother's boyfriend and how she became homeless and a teen mother.

"All of the writers of my generation must honor the ground broken by Dr. Maya Angelou," said author Tayari Jones. "She told a story that wasn't allowed to be told. Now, people tell all sorts of things in memoir, but when she told the truth, she challenged a taboo -- not for shock value, but to heal us all."

Apart from being well known for her poetic command and her commitment to civil rights, Angelou also penned a cookbook, received a nomination for a Tony Award and delivered a poem at Bill Clinton's presidential inauguration. In 2010, the revered poet was honoured with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country's highest civilian honor.

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