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From her wheelchair, Angelou dazzled the crowd by singing a verse of a spiritual: "When it looked like it wouldn't stop raining, God put a rainbow in the clouds."

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Finally, when Angelou was 12, a teacher got her to speak again.

In January 2014, after the death of South African leader Nelson Mandela — who had read aloud Angelou's poem, , at his 1994 presidential inauguration — she published , a poetic tribute to Mandela commissioned by the U.S. State Department.

As news of her death spread, other writers paid their respects via Twitter:

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As Angelou told the story, Loomis called several times before challenging: "You may be right not to attempt an autobiography because it is nearly impossible to write autobiography as literature. Almost impossible."

Poet Maya Angelou dies at age 86 - USA TODAY

In her 2002 memoir, , Angelou wrote of her friendship with writer James Baldwin: "Once after we had spent an afternoon talking and drinking with a group of white writers in a downtown bar, he said he liked that I could hold my liquor and my positions. He was pleased that I could defend Edgar Allan Poe and ask serious questions about Willa Cather."

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She then told the ballroom full of writers, editors and publishers: "You are the rainbow in my clouds." To laughter and applause, she added, that "easy reading is damn hard writing." In reviewing her career, she said, "For over 40 years, I have tried to tell the truth as I understand it. ... I haven't tried to tell everything I know, but I've tried to tell the truth."

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The poem she wrote for the lighting of the White House Christmas Tree in 2005, reached No. 12 on USA TODAY's Best-Selling Books list. That's foreign territory for most poetry.

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In , she circled back to the events that led her to begin her first book and dealt with the assassinations of Malcolm X in 1965 and King in 1968. (She knew them both.)

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In a statement Wednesday, Loomis wrote, "Maya, a dear friend, helped change our hearts and minds about the African American experience in the United States, bringing it to vivid life."