Paying tribute to “one of the greatest spirits our world has ever known”, Michelle Obama thanked the memoirist and poet Maya Angelou today for empowering young black women with her clever, sassy words.

The US First Lady declared that Angelou had taught women that self-worth “has nothing to do with what the world might say”.

“For me, that was the power of Maya Angelou’s words, words so powerful they carried a little black girl from the south side of Chicago all the way to the White House,” Obama said

She was speaking at the conclusion of a two-hour memorial service held at Wake Forest University in North Carolina. Maya Angelou had taught at that institution for 30 years. The esteemed writer died last month at the age of 86.