Famed author Maya Angelou dead at 86

Famed author Maya Angelou dead at 86

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(CNN.COM)  Maya Angelou, a renowned poet, novelist and actress whose work defied description under a simple label, has died, her publicist, Helen Brann, said Thursday. She died at her home in Winston-Salem, N.C., Brann said.

A professor, singer and dancer, among other things, Angelou's work spans different professions. She spent her early years studying dance and drama in San Francisco, California.

After dropping out at age 14, she become the city's first African-American female cable car conductor.

Angelou later returned to high school to finish her diploma and gave birth to her son a few weeks after graduation. While the 17-year-old single mother waited tables to support her son, she acquired a passion for music and dance. She toured Europe in the mid-1950s with "Porgy and Bess," an opera production. In 1957, she recorded her first album, "Calypso Lady."

In 1958, Angelou become a part of the Harlem Writers Guild in New York and also played a queen in "The Blacks," an off-Broadway production by French dramatist Jean Genet.

Affectionately referred to as Dr. Angelou, the professor never went to college. She has more than 30 honorary degrees and taught American studies for years at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

"I created myself," she has said. "I have taught myself so much."

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