On Tuesday, April 7, the U.S. Postal Service released a stamp to commemorate Maya Angelou’s life and legacy. While the ceremony drew the likes of Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey and Ambassador Andrew Young (who all shared lovely words in honor of the “forever” stamp) there was one major issue that overshadowed the event. The quote printed on the stamp, was penned by another author, Joan Walsh Anglund.
“A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song,” reads the stamp, which features a cheerful image of the beloved author, dancer, actress, singer and civil rights activist.
However, according to The Washington Post, the quote featured on the stamp may not have been penned by Angelou at all. An 89-year-old children’s book author, Joan Walsh Anglund, told the Post that she authored the quote. “Yes, that’s my quote,” Anglund said Monday night from her Connecticut home. As for her proof, Anglund delivered a print of an earlier iteration of the quote, from a book of poems titled A Cup of Sun, that was published in 1967. The only difference is that the quote that appears in Anglund’s 1967 book refers to the bird as “he” as opposed to “it” which is printed on the stamp.
Mark Saunders, a spokesperson for the Postal Service, confessed that he had no knowledge that Anglund was the originator of the quote. “The Postal Service used [Angelou’s] widely recognized quote to help build an immediate connection between her image and her 1969 nationally recognized autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. The sentence was chosen to accompany her image on the stamp to reflect her passion for the written and spoken word. The sentence held great meaning for her and she is publicly identified with its popularity.”
“Had we known about this issue beforehand, we would have used one of [Angelou’s] many other works,” continued Saunders.
Anglund however, tells the Post she was unaware for many years, that the quote had been publicly attributed to Angelou; claiming that the late poet must have come across the work during her professional career and articulated it again at which point the quote was attributed to her. “But I think it easily happens sometimes that people hear something, and it’s kind of going into your subconscious and you don’t realize it,” Anglund said. “It’s an interesting connection, and interesting it would happen and already be printed and on her stamp — I love her and all she’s done.”
Last year, during the 2013 National Medal of Arts and National Humanities Medal ceremony, President Obama attributed the quote to Angelou: “The late, great Maya Angelou once said, ‘A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.’ Each of the men and women that we honor today has a song — literally, in some cases. For others, it’s a talent, or a drive, or a passion that they just had to share with the world.”
But with such a rich body of work, we have to ask, why not use one of a several other notable quotes penned by Angelou? If you ask us, this is an epic fail for the USPS. Hit the flip for five quotes we would have chosen for Angelou’s honorary stamp and let us know in the comment section which quote would you have featured on the Maya Angelou stamp.