It sings because it has a song

So here’s what happened.

Last spring, the USPS released a commemorative Maya Angelou stamp with her name, picture, and a quote popularly attributed to her: “A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.” Then, after they had done the entire print run, and had the unveiling ceremony, someone pointed out that that quote is actually from a poem by another, lesser-known writer, and probably just reminded people of Angelou because of the title of her memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

The USPS handled it well. They basically shrugged and said, We’ve printed them all already, so we’ll just go ahead. It didn’t seem like anyone was too concerned. Apparently this gets misattributed to her all the time. Nbd.

I was fascinated by this story when I heard it, because that is a pretty huge screw-up by an organization that maybe should have known better. Someone should have checked that quote more than just googling it with Maya Angelou’s name and then ticking off that box. As someone who frequently has to answer for relatively innocuous errors in emails as well as in printed pieces, making a mistake this big would freak me out. So I also love that the USPS was just like, Eh. (Also because I find the USPS frustrating, and so of course they wouldn’t fact check or worry about this.)

I bought a sheet of these stamps, and then because I’m practical, used all of them – all but one. I’m saving that one. To remind myself that even if you set out to honor one of America’s unofficial poet laureates, but totally botch it, and even if you have printed EIGHTY MILLION stamps with a misattributed quote, you don’t have to retract the stamps, reprint with a correct quote, or even admit your mistake (most of the statements printed from the USPS higher ups have them insisting that the quote has been so long attributed to her that their fact checking was misled). You can just go ahead, sell your stamps, and then move on with your life. Nbd.

“Don’t sweat the small stuff.” -Copernicus

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For the NPR version of the story, click here.



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2 responses to “It sings because it has a song

  1. Robert Hamilton

    Why Copernicus? That seems like a random choice to attribute the other quote to. I would have picked Roy Rogers. The blues player, not the cowboy. But overall, I found this post informative, thoughtful and enlightening. I give it 5 stars. Love, Dad

  2. What an interesting story! Love, Joe

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