Maya Angelou, a renowned American poet who died Wednesday at 86, was a "gift to everybody," said S.C. Poet Laureate Marjory Wentworth.

Wentworth turned to Angelou's poetry when looking for inspiration while writing a poem for former Gov. Mark Sanford's inauguration in 2007, and teaches her work in her classes at the Art Institute of Charleston.

"She was so wise and so able to articulate what she knew and what she felt in ways everybody related to," Wentworth said. "That's what a true poet is: someone who can speak to everybody and for everybody."

In speaking to everybody, Angelou "took up the task of speaking about black womanhood" during the civil rights era with her memoir "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," said Consuela Francis, director of African American studies at the College of Charleston.

"Black women aren't marginal, and their experiences are not going to be folded into white women's experiences or white men's experiences," Francis said. "Her writing carves out a space for that to happen."

Nikky Finney, a Conway native and award-winning poet who now serves as the Bennett Chair of Southern Literature and Creative Writing at the University of South Carolina, said she has learned not only about literature, but life, from Angelou's works.

"She taught me so many things about surviving, struggling, and the resilience of the human heart," Finney said in a statement. "In this moment of stunning loss it feels like a great human library has burned to the ground."