Good intentions, not-so-good results: USPS stamp of Maya Angelou

Home S&S Opinion Good intentions, not-so-good results: USPS stamp of Maya Angelou
Good intentions, not-so-good results: USPS stamp of Maya Angelou
Poet Maya Angelou attends the 2008 J. William Fulbright Prize for International Understanding before her death in 2014. USPS is now making a stamp for her to honor her legacy. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/MCT)

By PHOEBE SOLOMON
Staff Writer

The beginning of April brought with it the unveiling of a new stamp dedicated to the late Maya Angelou, an American poet who advocated for social justice through the written word in the midst of the Civil Rights movement. The stamp, however, is quite controversial because of the quote that appears next to a picture of Angelou.

The quote “A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song” has often been attributed to Angelou but, according to the New York Times, was in fact coined by Joan Walsh Anglund, another American author. Many find it bizarre that an iconic American poet cannot be quoted on her own stamp and that the United States Postal Service (USPS) has repeatedly refused to reissue the stamp.

Although Angelou deeply admired Anglund’s quote and it is reminiscent of Angelou’s timeless book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, the quote simply does not belong to Angelou, and Angelou never claimed ownership of Anglund’s words. To put another, lesser-known author’s quote on a stamp dedicated to Maya Angelou is effectively suggesting that Angelou’s words do not hold enough value to appear on a stamp. It was not just the words and phrases she linked together that were significant but also the change that those words advocated.
The point of the stamp is supposedly to celebrate the racial and gender-related advances that Angelou brought about in her lifetime, and the disparaging stamp lessens her impact. To put any other author – or any other person – on a stamp dedicated to Angelou is half-hearted and cowardly.

In an attempt to offer an explanation for the misguided stamp, USPS representative David Partenheimer said to the New York Times that “the sentence was chosen to accompany her image on the stamp to reflect her passion for the written and spoken word.” Angelou’s own writing, however, was what truly exhibited her love and passion for “the written and spoken word.” As Angelou herself once said, “I believe that the most important single thing, beyond discipline and creativity is daring to dare.”

With that in mind, it is difficult to believe that Angelou would have approved the lack of daring, the security and safety and the outright bad judgment in the decision to feature another author on a stamp honoring the iconic writer.

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