Today, the US Postal Service unveiled the commemorative stamp to honor Maya Angelou’s legacy. Unfortunately, the quote on the stamp next to her picture is one that is not originally hers. “A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song,” is actually from a book of poems by an 89-year old children’s book writer named Joan Walsh Anglund. The quote is from Anglund’s book, titled A Cup of Sun, from 1967.
That sound you hear is the echo of our collective facepalms, because the level of this fail is so epic that I am embarrassed for everyone who had something to do with the production. Was good research busy? Was fact checking on vacation? Did diligence quit? What happened? How did this mistake come to be, USPS?
Did they use Pinterest to pull this quote, or was it Instagram? Wikipedia University is not the best either, you know.
The USPS had ONE JOB. Mother Maya had HOW MANY quotes? There are libraries filled with her books: she’s written over 30. Why couldn’t the quote chosen come from one of them? Lady Angelou has poems for days. If they needed to use something that she is well-known for, pick a line or two from “Phenomenal Woman.”
Maya Angelou’s words are powerful and prolific, so the main concern here should have been which of her printed works the commemorative quote should come from. Instead, they decided to use a quote that is attributed to Maya, instead of proving that it is hers. That’s careless.
Let me say the one nice thing I have to say about this situation: I get how they could think that is a Maya Angelou quote. It is clearly relatable to “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” And President Obama erroneously attributed the quote to her in a speech. So I guess someone at the USPS DID use Google. Ok, that is the only thing nice I have to say.
Unfortunately, the Postal Service’s spokesman, Mark Saunders, went into his bag of excuses and said: “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.”
This is a STAMP, not a blogpost! This is something that people will buy and place in their valuables. This should have been vetted by multiple people, and the quote used should have been hers without a doubt! There should no room for error with this stamp.
Furthermore, even the phrase “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” is not a Maya original. That book title was inspired from a line in a Paul Laurence Dunbar poem titled “Sympathy”. This is not a secret, and even though it is one of her most well-known works, the USPS shouldn’t have been so quick to use the phrase (or one related and poorly connected to her) for the stamp. It feels lazy on their part.
It is no easy job to find the perfect quote to define Maya Angelou’s giant body of work. I acknowledge that; but they had fifty gajillion other things to choose from, and they chose the one that wasn’t even hers. It is a tangled web of incompetence that they weave over there.
I am glad that the USPS chose to give Mother Maya Angelou this high recognition. However, the road to hell is paved with good intentions and quotes wrongly attributed to one of the most quoted women ever. ON HER OWN STAMP. Fix it, Olivia Pope. Jesus is busy with more important things.
I leave you with this: “Y’all dropped the ball and you should be shamed.” – Maya Angelou*
*No, Maya didn’t really say that.
P.S. YOU HAD ONE JOB, USPS! Dambit!
Luvvie is a professional troublemaker and writer who talks pop culture at Awesomely Luvvie, technology at Awesomely Techie and is the Executive Director of The Red Pump Project. She can also be found on Twitter (@Luvvie), Facebook and Instagram.