The Maya Angelou Quarter was the first in the American Women Quarters Program™. Originally named Marguerite Annie Johnson, Angelou was born in Atlanta on April 4, 1928. Among her many notable talents was writing memoirs with her poetry. She was also a civil rights activist. Unfortunately, she passed away on May 28, 2014, in New York City. Known as one of the great voices of contemporary literature, Maya Angelou is regarded by many as a “remarkable Renaissance woman.”
For more than 50 years, she wrote plays, movies, television shows, autobiographies, three collections of essays, and a poetry book. Her work covering her childhood and early adult years is the most well-known of Angelou’s seven autobiographies. Her first book was the internationally acclaimed I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969). The book recounts the events of her life up to 17 years old.
Before becoming a poet and author, she worked odd jobs during her twenties and thirties, including time spent as a fry cook, sex worker, nightclub performer, and member of the cast of Porgy and Bess. As well as acting, writing, directing, and producing plays, films, and public television programs, she also was active in the arts. In 1982, she became the first Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She was one of the most important civil rights activists because of her work with Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.
Toward the end of her life, she began giving lectures and readings. At Bill Clinton’s first inauguration in 1993, she delivered “On the Pulse of Morning,” which Robert Frost delivered 20 years earlier at John F. Kennedy’s inaugural.
Angelou became one of the first African Americans to openly discuss her life after publishing I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. According to Hilton Als, black women writers had been marginalized to such an extent that they had been prohibited from portraying themselves as central characters in literature until then. John McWhorter believes Angelou’s “tracts” exemplify “apologetic writing.”
In part, Maya Angelou’s autobiographies are seen as reflections of African American culture. On the other hand, Julian Mayfield and Maya Angelou called their autobiographies “works of art that defy description.” However, she has undeniably set a precedent for black women writers and African American writers. Mayfield noted that Caged Bird was an uncommon autobiography written by a black author because it does not apologize for being black or defend it from an African American perspective.
As a result of writing her autobiographies, she gained widespread respect and recognition as a spokeswoman for African Americans and women. Consequently, she became the first woman of color to publish an autobiography and one of the most influential voices in the autobiography genre. A famous writer once noted that Maya Angelou’s life was more like her work than any other writer’s.
It is impressive how much she has been honored over the years. Wake Forest University awarded her with induction into the Writers Hall of Fame. President Obama even presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, in 2010.
During the 1970s, Caged Bird influenced African American feminist literature, not because it was original but because it resonated with the zeitgeist of the time.
Angelou’s writing, which emphasized the importance of self-expression over simply focusing on feminism or politics, enabled other women to break free of their self-consciousness and stand up for what they believe in. As a critic of Angelou’s works, Joanne M. Braxton regards Caged Bird as one of the best accounts of a woman of color in the twentieth century. In addition, many musicians have been inspired by Maya Angelou’s poetry, including Kanye West, Common, Tupac Shakur, Nicki Minaj, and countless others.
Professor Angelou is well regarded by academics, writers, and government officials alike. She has also been nominated for three Grammy Awards for her spoken-word recordings, in addition to winning the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Additionally, her role in Look Away earned her a Tony Award nomination. Since 1994, she was awarded the Spingarn Medal, the National Medal of Arts, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In addition, she has received more than fifty honorary degrees. Angelou is the first woman to appear on a quarter in the American Women series.
On the obverse (heads) is a portrait of George Washington sculpted and composed by Laura Gardin Fraser to celebrate the 200th birthday of the first president. Treasury Secretary Mellon ultimately chose the familiar John Flannigan design for the 1932 quarter.
On the coin’s reverse, Maya Angelou is shown with her arms raised, symbolic of her way of life, inspired by her poetry. Also shown is a bird in flight in front of a rising sun.
In God We Trust
United States of America
E Pluribus Unum
Composition in Proof & Business Strike: 91.67% Copper & 8.33% Nickel
Composition in Silver Proof: 99.9 Fine Silver
Clad Weight: 5.670 grams
Silver Weight: 5.641 grams
Edge: Reeded & Number of Reeds: 119
Obverse Design: Laura Gardin Fraser (1889-1966)
Reverse Design: Sculptor Craig Campbell, Medallic Artist
Designer: Emily Damstra, Artistic Infusion Program
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