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Maya Angelou, Forever Stamp


I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is arguably Maya Angelou's most famous work.

But it's a quotation about a bird's song that inspired Angelou, and not words that she first spoke or wrote herself, that ended up on a new Forever Stamp honoring the late author-poet-essayist-actress-and-more.

"A bird doesn't sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song," is the line that accompanies Angelou's smiling visage on the perennially usable postage—a line that first appeared in the 1967 children's book A Cup of Sun, by Joan Walsh Anglund


"I haven't read all of her things, and I love her things, of course," Anglund, 89, told the Washington Post once she learned of what was ultimately an oversight by the United States Postal Service. "But 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."

Not that the USPS was the first to mistake the quote for one of Angelou's, either. President Barack Obama (or whoever prepared his remarks) did the same thing, saying at the 2013 National Medal of Arts and Humanities presentation: "The late, great Maya Angelou once said, ‘A bird doesn't sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.' Each of the men and women that we honor today has a song—literally, in some cases."

"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," USPS spokesman Mark Saunders said in a statement obtained by E! News when asked about the non-Angelou quote ending up on the Forever Stamp, which was unveiled today at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., attended by first lady Michelle ObamaOprah Winfrey, poet Nikki Giovanni and other luminaries.

Oprah Winfrey, Maya Angelou, Forever Stamp

Leah Puttkammer/FilmMagic

"The sentence was chosen to accompany her image on the stamp to reflect her passion for the written and spoken word," Saunders continued. "The sentence held great meaning for her and she is publicly identified with its popularity."

But Saunders admitted to the Post in an email that they would have picked an actual Angelou quote from one of her "many other workds" if they had "known about this issue beforehand."

Angelou died on May 28, 2014, at the age of 86. And today's dedication ceremony was in no way dampened by the quote mix-up.

The stamp was in honor of "this big, bold and bodacious life, bodacious life that she dared to live in a way that dazzled and gave meaning to all of us who knew her and millions who didn't," Winfrey said of her late friend.