Maya Angelou to open women on quarters series

The image of poet, actor and activist Maya Angelou with her arms uplifted will appear on the U.S. quarter in February as part of a new program by the U.S. Mint.

The American Women Quarters Program is a four-year program that celebrates the accomplishments and contributions made by women to the development and history of our country.

Beginning in 2022, and continuing through 2025, the U.S. Mint will issue up to five new reverse designs each year. The obverse of each coin will maintain a likeness of George Washington, but a different one from the design used during the previous quarter program.

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The American Women Quarters may feature contributions from a variety of fields, including, but not limited to, suffrage, civil rights, abolition, government, humanities, science, space, and the arts. The women honored will be from ethnically, racially and geographically diverse backgrounds.

The distinguished American women celebrated in the 2022 quarters will be:

  • Maya Angelou – celebrated writer, performer, and social activist
  • Dr. Sally Ride – physicist, astronaut, educator, and first American woman in space
  • Wilma Mankiller – first female principal chief of the Cherokee Nation
  • Nina Otero-Warren – a leader in New Mexico’s suffrage movement and the first female superintendent of Santa Fe public schools
  • Anna May Wong – first Chinese American film star in Hollywood

The U.S. Mint announced this week that the Angelou quarter started shipping.

“The United States Mint (Mint) has begun shipping the first coins in the American Women Quarters (AWQ) Program,” a press release stated. “These circulating quarters honoring Maya Angelou are manufactured at the Mint facilities in Philadelphia and Denver.”

Sally Ride and Maya Angelou

The announcement said coins featuring additional honorees will begin shipping later this year.

“It is my honor to present our nation’s first circulating coins dedicated to celebrating American women and their contributions to American history,” said Mint Deputy Director Ventris C. Gibson. “Each 2022 quarter is designed to reflect the breadth and depth of accomplishments being celebrated throughout this historic coin program. Maya Angelou, featured on the reverse of this first coin in the series, used words to inspire and uplift.”

A writer, poet, performer, social activist, and teacher, Angelou rose to international prominence as an author after the publication of her groundbreaking autobiography, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”

Angelou’s published works of verse, non-fiction and fiction include more than 30 bestselling titles. Her career encompassed dance, theater, journalism, and social activism.

The recipient of more than 30 honorary degrees, Angelou read “On the Pulse of Morning” at the 1992 inauguration of President Bill Clinton.  Angelou’s reading marked the first time an African American woman wrote and presented a poem at a presidential inauguration.

In 2010, President Barack Obama awarded Angelou the Presidential Medal of Freedom and she was the 2013 recipient of the Literarian Award, an honorary National Book Award for contributions to the literary community.

The reverse (tails), designed by United States Mint Artistic Infusion Program (AIP) Artist Emily Damstra and sculpted by United States Mint Medallic Artist Craig A. Campbell, depicts Maya Angelou with her arms uplifted.  Behind her are a bird in flight and a rising sun, images inspired by her poetry and symbolic of the way she lived. 

After Angelou’s passing in 2014, University of Florida English professor Marsha Bryant recognized the impact Angelou had in a blog titled, “Maya Angelou and the Public Life of Poetry.”

“This week’s passing of Maya Angelou—a woman with gravitas and grit—brought forth a new kind of poetry community on social media,” Bryant wrote about the outpouring of reaction on social media. “I’ve seen nothing quite like the Facebook forum that ignited when the news of Angelou’s death became public. Posts appeared from teachers and students, attorneys and administrative assistants, singers and scientists. A graduate student recalled how Angelou’s writing connected her with her mother, called her to be a writer. An attorney confessed that reciting ‘Phenomenal Woman’ fortifies her for difficult court cases. An English teacher claimed that Angelou compelled him toward his profession.

Bryant wrote that videos of Angelou reading a poem titled “Still I Rise” went viral after her death: “Angelou generated this wide afterlife, I think, because she spoke with a singular and compelling authority.”

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