President Obama praised author and poet Maya Angelou, who died today at age 86, as “one of the brightest lights of our time – a brilliant writer, a fierce friend, and a truly phenomenal woman.”

“Over the course of her remarkable life, Maya was many things – an author, poet, civil rights activist, playwright, actress, director, composer, singer and dancer. But above all, she was a storyteller – and her greatest stories were true. A childhood of suffering and abuse actually drove her to stop speaking – but the voice she found helped generations of Americans find their rainbow amidst the clouds, and inspired the rest of us to be our best selves. In fact, she inspired my own mother to name my sister Maya,” Obama said in a statement.

“Like so many others, Michelle and I will always cherish the time we were privileged to spend with Maya. With a kind word and a strong embrace, she had the ability to remind us that we are all God’s children; that we all have something to offer. And while Maya’s day may be done, we take comfort in knowing that her song will continue, ‘flung up to heaven’ – and we celebrate the dawn that Maya Angelou helped bring.”

In 2010, Obama awarded Angelou the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) said he was “saddened” by the passing of the “daughter of the South,” who “played an important role in our country and will be remembered for embodying so much of the American spirit – determination, grace and faith.”

“As much as her six volumes of work, including her autobiography, ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,’ will be honored, at her core, she worked to encourage people around the world to begin ‘seeing us as more alike than we are unalike,’” Scott said.

“Whether as a poet, best-selling author, actress, civil rights activist or professor on college campuses, Dr. Angelou’s memory and contributions to our country will live on in the lives of the millions of people she touched.”

Rep. Wm. “Lacy” Clay (D-Mo.), who represents Angelou’s hometown of St. Louis, noted that her last tweet, five days ago, said, “Listen to yourself and in that quietude you might hear the voice of God.”

“Her passing is the loss of a great soul who knew the brutality of racism and violence in her youth,” Clay said. “She responded to evil and injustice with a piercing eloquence that spoke directly to the hearts of the American people and uplifted millions around the world.”