Maya Angelou: Behind the Stamp | Rock Candy

Maya Angelou: Behind the Stamp

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A friend just pointed me to this interesting post by Ian Crouch of the New Yorker about the U.S. Postal Service's brand-new Maya Angelou stamp, which was officially issued last week in a ceremony featuring Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey. The stamp features a quotation — "A bird doesn't sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song" — that, as the Washington Post pointed out, wasn't actually written by Angelou, but by the poet Joan Walsh Anglund.

As Crouch writes:

The practice of misattribution has a long history, but it has thrived in recent years thanks to the Internet, where minor falsehoods metastasize at an alarming speed. The scourge of false quotations has even produced a counter-industry of investigative sites and finger-wagging skeptics dedicated to setting the record straight. But, for now, in the battle between historical accuracy and every single clever observation ever uttered being credited to either Mark Twain or Winston Churchill, the misattributors are winning. In the case of Angelou, who became associated with the quote largely thanks to quotation-aggregation sites and through social sharing online, the misattribution made the leap from the Web and to the world stage: Slate points out that Angelou was incorrectly credited as the author of the phrase during an introduction to her remarks at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Ten years later, President Obama attributed the quotation to Angelou during his presentation of the National Medal of Arts and the National Humanities Medal. “The late, great Maya Angelou once said . . . ” Obama began, and by then, it seems, he wasn’t wrong.

Crouch also notes that "more than eighty million Angelou stamps were produced, and there are no plans to retract them."


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