On Tuesday, the United States Postal Service unveiled a stamp honoring the memory of influential American poet and cultural icon Maya Angelou. Along with the poet’s portrait, the stamp features a quote that reads:
“A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.”
A beautiful quote, certainly. But Angelou didn’t write it.
The line was in fact penned by children’s book author Joan Walsh Anglund in her own book of poems “A Cup of Sun,” published in 1967. Anglund confirmed this fact to The Washington Post by saying, simply: “Yes, the quote is mine.”
When first faced with this news, Postal Service spokesman Mark Saunders said he had never heard that the quote belonged to Anglund until The Washington Post told him about it, and in response he sent a link to a 2013 blog post interview that quoted Angelou saying the phrase. He also pointed out that “numerous references” attributed the quote to her as well.
“The Postal Service used her 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.’ ”.
To be fair, those “numerous references” even include the president, himself; at the presentation of the 2013 National Medal of Arts and National Humanities Medal, President Obama quoted the line and credited it to Angelou.
But on Monday night, after Saunders was informed that Anglund herself had confirmed that — no matter how fond of the quote Angelou may have been — Anglund was its author, he told the newspaper:
“Had we known about this issue beforehand, we would have used one of [Angelou’s] many other works. . . . The sentence held great meaning for her and she is publicly identified with its popularity.”
As for Anglund, she appears more focused on the solidarity between her thinking and that of Angelou’s than she does on who’s getting credit for what.
“It’s an interesting connection, and interesting it would happen and already be printed and on her stamp,” she told The Washington Post. “I love her and all she’s done, and I also love my own private thinking that also comes to the public because it comes from what I’ve been thinking and how I’ve been feeling.”
“I don’t know about the stamp and I hope that it’s successful,” she added.