First published on, 16th January, 2022.


Who Is Maya Angelou, And Why Is She Depicted On A Quarter Dollar?

Recently, the United States Mint announced the American Women Quarters Series, a series of coins commemorating American women who are pioneers in one field or the other. Impressively, Maya Angelou is the first black woman to be depicted on a quarter dollar, and for good reasons.

Maya Angelou Quarter Dollar
               Maya Angelou/ Source: Google Images

Maya Angelou is a household name in the reading and writing community. Born Marguerite Annie Johnson, on the 4th of April, 1928, Maya Angelou was a famous American poet, an author and a civil rights activist, who worked with the likes of Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X.

Maya Angelou Quarter Dollar
Maya Angelou poses with Malcolm X./Source: Google Images

She wrote, among other things, seven autobiographies (her memoirs), three books of essays and several poetry books. Also, she featured in plays, movies and TV shows spanning over fifty years. In addition, she received dozens of awards, among them the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama, in 2011, and more than fifty honorary degrees. She was also named the first Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University in Winston Salem, North Carolina.

Maya Angelou Quarter Dollar
Maya Angelou receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama./ Source: Google Images

From the 1990s till when she was well into her eighties, she made numerous appearances a year on the lecture circuit. In 1993, she recited her poem, “On The Pulse Of Morning”, at the first inauguration of Bill Clinton, former American president. Angelou earned the feat of being the first poet to make an inaugural recitation since Robert Frost in 1961 (at the inauguration of John F. Kennedy).


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Maya Angelou/ Source: Google Images

A Look At Her Works

Her works are widely recognized, used in schools and universities worldwide, despite attempts to ban her books from some United States libraries. Impressively, she has a wide readership worldwide, even till date, after many years of her death in 2014.

They mostly center around the themes of racism, identity, family and survivall, defending black culture, which is why she is highly regarded as a spokesperson for black people and women. Angelou set a precedent for other black women writers, and African-American autobiography as a whole. She was called the “black woman’s poet laureate”.

Wake Forest professor Maya Angelou teaches class on campus in 1981./Source: Google Images

“All my work, my life, everything I do is about survival, not just bare, awful, plodding survival, but survival with grace and faith. While one may encounter many defeats, one must not be defeated.” – Maya Angelou’s quote.

The Bumpy Road

One may look at the latter part of Maya Angelou’s life, and think that it was all rosy from the start. This literary giant had a rough childhood and youthful age, which served as background for her kind of stories. Writing was her way out of her deep sorrow, and she found solace in it. Not only solace, but also fame. At a time when many women shied away from exposing their stories to the world, Maya Angelou spoke up with a bold voice. “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings” (1969), one of the works that brought her international acclaim, tells the story of her life up to the age of seventeen.

During her young adulthood, she worked a string of odd jobs, from cook to night club performer and actress. It was her low moments and how she overcame them, that took her to such great heights. She once said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you.”

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou’s poem/ Source: Google Images


Maya Angelou And The Quarter Dollar Depiction 

Maya Angelou depicted on a quarter dollar. /Source: Google Images

Today, among many other pioneering feats, she is the first black woman to be depicted on a quarter dollar. Obviously, the reasons to give are so numerous, but one that stands out is her uniqueness. Every writer should pick up this cue from Maya Angelou’s life; Have a unique voice. Your style, your story, your ways, should be of a unique quality. Don’t follow the crowd. You are a brand. Be your own brand of human.

Maya Angelou’s uniqueness is so beautiful, that, even in death, her name remains alive.

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