This undated handout image provided by the US Postal Service shows the the limited edition “Forever” stamp honoring the late poet, author and civil rights champion Maya Angelou. The stamp for dedication at a Washington ceremony Tuesday showcases Atlanta artist Ross Rossin’s 2013 portrait of Angelou, an oil painting in the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery collection.
But that quote isn't Angelou's, children's book author Joan Walsh Anglund said in a Washington Post report. The line – with slightly different pronouns – appears in Anglund's 1967 book, "A Cup of Sun."
President Barack Obama also misattributed the quote to Angelou in a 2013 speech.
"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, 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."
The U.S. Postal service provided a lengthy explanation for why it used the misattributed quote:
"The Forever Stamp honoring Maya Angelou contains the sentence “A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.” 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. "