The United States Post Office is learning something every 10-year-old probably knows: don’t believe everything you find on the Internet.
The USPS on Tuesday unveiled a new “forever” stamp in honor of the late poet and author Maya Angelou, but the stirring line of poetry emblazoned on the stamp wasn’t written by Angelou at all.
“A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song,” the Angelou “Forever” stamp reads.
The author of those is the very-much-alive children’s book writer Joan Walsh Anglund, who published a book of poetry called “A Cup of Sun” containing the passage back in 1967, according to the Washington Post. The only difference between Anglund’s line and the one that appears on the stamp is the pronoun. Anglund wrote “he,” the more politically correct version says “it.”
“Yes, that’s my quote,” Anglund told the Post in an interview from her Connecticut home on Monday.
Angelou is associated with birds, of course. Her 1969 autobiography, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” is recognized as a classic of American literature. But that doesn’t mean all bird references are hers.
Contacted by the Post, a USPS spokesman at first seemed to defend the errant passage as Angelou’s, sending the newspaper a web link to a blog that quoted Angelou saying the phrase, and telling the newspaper there were “numerous” other references to Angelou speaking the words as well.
Well, if she did speak them, she was reading aloud from a Joan Walsh Anglund book at the time.
Contacted again by the Post with the information that the real author was claiming the words, the spokesman appeared to soften.
“Had we known about this issue beforehand, we would have used one of [Angelou’s] many other works,” he wrote in an email. “The sentence held great meaning for her and she is publicly identified with its popularity.”
That might be because the president of the United States – or his speechwriters — did the same Google search as the post office. President used the line in a 2013 presentation of the National Medal of Arts and National Humanities Medal, and attributed to to Angelou.
(To be fair, the USPS and the Obama communications team aren’t the only ones who put too much faith in a quick web search. The folks at brainyquote.com, for instance, are probably working on the correction right now.)
In her interview with the Post, Anglund took the news of her line’s newfound fame good-naturedly.
“I don’t know about the stamp,” she said. “And I hope that it’s successful.”
The USPS might hope it just goes away. Or this is one mistake that will last “forever.”
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