updated 05/28/2014 AT 10:35 AM ET
•originally published 05/28/2014 AT 9:35 AM ET
Award-winning author, renowned poet, civil rights activist and one of the most respected voices in America, Dr. Maya Angelou, has died. She was 86.
A statement from her family was posted on her Facebook page Wednesday morning: “Dr. Maya Angelou passed quietly in her home before 8:00 a.m. EST. Her family is extremely grateful that her ascension was not belabored by a loss of acuity or comprehension. She lived a life as a teacher, activist, artist and human being. She was a warrior for equality, tolerance and peace. The family is extremely appreciative of the time we had with her and we know that she is looking down upon us with love.”
Mayor Allen Joines of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, confirmed she was found by her caretaker on Wednesday morning, according to Piedmont station WGHP. She had been in failing health for some time, according to reports. No immediate further details were available.
Angelou gained acclaim for her first book, her 1970 autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, making her one of the first African-American women to write a best seller. She lived in an 18-room house in North Carolina and taught American Studies at Wake Forest University.
In 1982, when Angelou was 53, PEOPLE said in a profile:
“She was born black and poor, trouble enough in the rural South of the 1920s. By age 3, she was the child of a broken home, shunted off to her paternal grandmother’s care in tiny Stamps, Arkansas. Before her 8th birthday, she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend and forced to endure the further trauma of his trial; when her assailant was murdered after his release, she blamed herself and spoke hardly at all until she was nearly 13. At 17, she graduated from high school unwed and eight months pregnant. A year later, to support herself and her son, Guy, she became the madam of a two-woman whorehouse in San Diego, and then for a short time a prostitute herself.
“Yet today,” the profile continued, “this same Maya Angelou is a protean woman, fluent in seven languages and the recipient of 13 honorary degrees. She was nominated for a National Book Award for her nonfiction and a Tony award for her acting.”
“Maya is one of those totally steadfast people with a spine made of iron,” her longtime friend, writer Jessica Mitford (The American Way of Death), told PEOPLE at the time. “She’s a force of nature with so many talents in every direction that the combination comes like an earthquake.”