US Stamps

Despite quote questions, no plans for new Maya Angelou stamp

Apr 16, 2015, 4 AM

Though the quote printed on the stamp honoring her did not come from her writings, the United States Postal Service said it is sticking with the Maya Angelou forever stamp as issued April 7.


The United States Postal Service has no plans to issue a different stamp honoring Maya Angelou, even though it appears that the quote inscribed on the stamp issued April 7 did not originate with her.

Lonnae O’Neal reported in the Washington Post that “A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song,” is nearly identical to a line from a poem by Joan Walsh Anglund.

O’Neal notes that Emerson College writing professor Jabari Asim recalled coming across the words in Anglund’s 1967 book, A Cup of Sun.

Details addressing the quote on the stamp were also reported in the April 27 Linn’s.

There is some evidence that Angelou may have spoken the line or mentioned it in an interview, but no suggestion that she claimed to be its author.

The sentence meshes well with the title of Angelou’s autobiographical I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. When that book was published in 1969, it included an acknowledgment that the title is derived from the last line of the 1899 poem “Sympathy” by Paul Laurence Dunbar.

In response to questions from Linn’s Stamp News, USPS spokesman Mark Saunders said the Postal Service printed a limited edition of 80 million stamps and has no plans to produce new stamps.

Referring to the quote inscribed on the stamp, Saunders said, “Maya Angelou cited this sentence frequently in media interviews and other forums and it provides a connection to her first memoir, 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.

“We were not aware of Joan Walsh Anglund’s book A Cup of Sun, written in 1967, until the reporter brought it to our attention. It appears that Ms. Anglund’s poems and books have been cherished by many readers over the years.

“Dr. Angelou was a prolific writer and considered by many to be a wise person with a great deal of life experience. Had we known about this issue beforehand, we would have used one of her many other works.

“The Postal Service puts a great deal of time and energy into vetting the stamps it releases each year. This stamp was similarly vetted. We found that the phrase was widely attributed to Angelou in many media and by some dignitaries.”

President Barack Obama attributed the quote to Angelou last year during a July 28 White House ceremony honoring National Medals of the Arts and Humanities recipients.

Along with its appearance in Anglund’s book, the quote in various incarnations has taken on a life of its own on the Internet and in print.

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While often attributed to either Angelou or Anglund, it is also presented as a Chinese proverb, and as an inspirational quote from former football coach Lou Holtz.