Category Archives: Maya Angelou

We Are an Impossibility in an Impossible Universe

Ray Bradbury? Apocryphal?
ray10Dear Quote Investigator: On Facebook I saw the following quotation displayed on a star-filled picture:

We are an impossibility in an impossible universe

The words were attributed to the prominent science fiction author Ray Bradbury, but I haven’t been able to find a citation. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: In January 1975 “The Oregonian” newspaper of Portland, Oregon published a column that reviewed television and radio programs. The public television station KOAP-TV had recently broadcast a program called “Assignment America” hosted by the well-known poet Maya Angelou with Ray Bradbury as guest. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Bradbury told her, “We are on the moon today because of one man and only one man and that’s Edgar Rice Burroughs. His John Carter, ‘Warlord of Mars,’ romanced a whole generation of boys into going out and building the equipment to go to the moon.” Bradbury was fittingly interviewed in Hollywood’s Magic Castle. “We’re an impossibility in an impossible universe,” he said. “There’s really no split between science and religion. When facts stop, faith has to take over.”

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1975 January 31, Oregonian, Behind the mike: Rousing beginning made by ‘Archer’ by Francis Murphy (The Oregonian staff), Quote Page B7, Column 1, Portland, Oregon. (GenealogyBank)

Jealousy in Romance Is Like Salt in Food

Maya Angelou? Apocryphal?

Jealousy09

Dear Quote Investigator: I once read a piece by the prominent memoirist and poet Maya Angelou that contained a fascinating simile depicting jealousy in a love affair as a spice or salt because it enhanced the flavor of the relationship. I have not been able to relocate this passage, and now I am less certain she wrote it. Would you please help locate this quotation?

Quote Investigator: In 1993 Maya Angelou released a collection titled “Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now”. One short passage titled “Jealousy” referred to that puissant emotion as an intoxicant but also included a cautionary note. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

It must be remembered, however, that jealousy in romance is like salt in food. A little can enhance the savor, but too much can spoil the pleasure and, under certain circumstances, can be life-threatening.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1993, Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now by Maya Angelou, Section: Jealousy, Quote Page 129, Random House, New York. (Verified on paper)

A Bird Doesn’t Sing Because It Has an Answer, It Sings Because It Has a Song

Maya Angelou? Joan Walsh Anglund? William Hazlitt? Alfred Lord Tennyson? Jimmie Allison? Lou Holtz?

bird07Dear Quote Investigator: In 2015 the U.S. Postal Service released a controversial commemorative stamp featuring the prominent author Maya Angelou which displayed the following words:

A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.

Angelou’s best-known work was titled “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”, and the expression above seems to be thematically connected; however, the words were not originally crafted by Angelou. Would you please explore the provenance of this quotation?

Quote Investigator: The earliest strong match known to QI appeared in “A Cup of Sun: A Book of Poems” by Joan Walsh Anglund, a popular children’s book author. The collection was published in 1967, and the following verse was printed by itself on a single page; note that the phrasing differed slightly from the words on the stamp because it used the identifier “he” instead of “it”. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

A bird does not sing because he has an answer.
He sings because he has a song.

The quotation was reassigned to the category Chinese proverb by 1984. In 1995 it was re-ascribed to someone named Howard Clemmons, and by 2001 it was reassigned to Maya Angelou. Detailed citations are given further below.

Speculations and pronouncements about the motivations of singing birds have a long and variegated history. The examples shown in this article will emphasize the internal wellsprings of avian desire instead of external goals.

Thanks to top researcher Barry Popik who located valuable citations for this topic and shared them with QI for this article.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1967, A Cup of Sun: A Book of Poems by Joan Walsh Anglund, Quote Page 15 (also printed on inside front flap), Published by Harcourt, Brace & World, New York (Verified with scans)

A Rainy Day, Lost Luggage, and Tangled Christmas Tree Lights

Maya Angelou? H. Jackson Brown Jr.? A 52-Year-Old Person?

lights12Dear Quote Investigator: Each of us must occasionally experience irritating situations. Maturity and self-control help to keep a person steady. A quotation touching on this theme has been attributed to the prominent poet and memoirist Maya Angelou. Here are two versions:

I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way (s)he handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights.

You can tell a lot about a person by the way they handle three things: a rainy day, lost luggage and tangled Christmas tree lights

I have been unable to determine where or when Angelou said this. Are these really her words?

Quote Investigator: Probably not.

The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in a 1991 compilation by the best-selling author H. Jackson Brown, Jr. titled “Live and Learn and Pass It On: People ages 5 to 95 share what they’ve discovered about life, love, and other good stuff”. The book printed a set of comical and astute sayings from individuals who were identified only by age. Here is a sampling of four remarks from Brown’s book. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a man by the way he handles these three things: a rainy holiday, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights. —Age 52

I’ve learned that regardless of your relationship with your parents, you miss them terribly after they die. —Age 53

I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands. You need to be able to throw something back. —Age 64

I’ve learned that even when I have pains, I don’t have to be a pain. —Age 82

The phrase “rainy holiday” was used instead of “rainy day”. A holidaymaker hoping for sun would certainly be aggravated with downpours.

By 2003 all four of these statements from different people had implausibly been reassigned to Maya Angelou.

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Notes:

  1. 1991, Live and Learn and Pass It On: People ages 5 to 95 share what they’ve discovered about life, love, and other good stuff, Written and compiled by H. Jackson Brown, Jr.,”luggage” Quote Page 85,”parents” Quote Page 31, “mitt” Quote Page 47,”pains” Quote Page 25, Published by Rutledge Hill Press, Nashville, Tennessee. (Items have been selected and ordered to match the sequence in the March 2003 Maya Angelou citation) (Verified with scans)

Easy Reading Is Hard Writing

Maya Angelou? Nathaniel Hawthorne? Thomas Hood? Richard Brinsley Sheridan? Charles Allston Collins? Anthony Trollope? Lord Byron? William Makepeace Thackeray? Anonymous?

library11Dear Quote Investigator: Writers should strive to create texts that are informative, interesting, stimulating, and readable. But one of my favorite sayings reveals that this can be a remarkably difficult task:

Easy reading is damned hard writing.

I thought this adage was coined by the prominent author Maya Angelou, but recently I learned that she credited Nathaniel Hawthorne. Would you please explore this statement?

Quote Investigator: This topic is complicated by the existence of two complementary statements that are often confused. Many different versions of these statements have circulated over the years. Here are two expository instances:

1) Easy writing results in hard reading.
2) Easy reading requires hard writing.

An extended discussion of the first maxim is available under the title “Easy Writing’s Vile Hard Reading” located here. This entry will focus on the second maxim.

The earliest evidence of a strong match located by QI appeared in the London periodical “The Athenaeum” in 1837. The humorist, poet, and essayist Thomas Hood wrote a letter to the editor which was printed under the title “Copyright and Copywrong”. Hood commented on the process of writing. In the original text the word “damned” was partially censored to yield “d__d”. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

And firstly, as to how he writes, upon which head there is a wonderful diversity of opinions; one thinks that writing is “as easy as lying,” and pictures the author sitting carefully at his desk “with his glove on,” like Sir Roger de Coverley’s poetical ancestor. A second holds that “the easiest reading is d__d hard writing,” and imagines Time himself beating his brains over an extempore.

Hood placed the adage between quotation marks suggesting that it was already in use. In fact, variant statements containing the phrases “hard reading” and “easy writing” were already being disseminated, and the expression probably evolved from those antecedents. Hence, apportioning credit for the formulation of this maxim is a difficult task.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1837 April 22, The Athenaeum: Journal of English and Foreign Literature, Science, and the Fine Arts, Copyright and Copywrong, (Letter to the Editor of the Athenaeum from Thomas Hood), Start Page 285, Quote Page 286 and 287, Printed by James Holmes, London, Published at the Office of The Athenaeum, London. (Google Books Full View) link

They May Forget What You Said, But They Will Never Forget How You Made Them Feel

Frank A. Patterson Jr.? Maya Angelou? Carl W. Buehner? Carl W. Buechner? Carol Buchner? Don Aslett? Jerry Johnston? Anonymous?

speaking06Dear Quote Investigator: The most valuable advice that I have ever heard for speakers and teachers is the following:

They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.

This statement has been attributed to Carol Buchner, Maya Angelou, and others. The essential insight is that a skilled communicator must be aware of the emotional valence of his or her words. Would you please explore the history of this quotation?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in a 1971 collection titled “Richard Evans’ Quote Book”. The statement was ascribed to Carl W. Buehner who was a high-level official in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints: 1

They may forget what you said — but they will never forget how you made them feel.
—Carl W. Buehner

Richard L. Evans who compiled the set of quotations was also a prominent figure in the LDS church. For more than forty years he was the program narrator for the weekly radio and television broadcast of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir called “Music and the Spoken Word”. Evans presented three-minute sermonettes addressing a variety of themes. 2 3 The book’s subtitle indicated that some material was from these broadcasts:

Selected from the “Spoken Word” and “Thought for the Day” and from many inspiring thought-provoking sources from many centuries.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1971, Richard Evans’ Quote Book by Richard L. Evans, (“Selected from the ‘Spoken Word’ and ‘Thought for the Day’ and from many inspiring thought-provoking sources from many centuries”) Quote Page 244, Column 2, Publishers Press, Salt Lake City, Utah. (Verified with scans; thanks to the librarians of Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah)
  2. Website: Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Webpage title: History of Music and the Spoken Word, Date on website: Undated, Website description: Information about The Mormon Tabernacle Choir of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (Accessed mormontabernaclechoir.org on April 5, 2014) link
  3. 1976, The Worth of a Smile: Spoken Words for Daily Living by J. Spencer Kinard, Section: Preface, Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. (Verified with scans)

You Can’t Use Up Creativity. The More You Use, The More You Have

Maya Angelou? Oscar Wilde? Anonymous?

angelou03Dear Quote Investigator: Recently on Pinterest and Twitter I have seen the following quotation attributed to the famous wit Oscar Wilde:

You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.

However, I thought these were the words of the acclaimed poet and memoirist Maya Angelou. Would you please resolve this conflict?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Oscar Wilde made this remark. It is not listed in “The Wit & Wisdom of Oscar Wilde”, an extensive collection compiled by quotation expert Ralph Keyes. 1

The earliest evidence known to QI appeared in a periodical in 1982 which was initiating a series of articles: 2

With this edition, Bell Telephone Magazine begins a series to profile those people whose attitudes and approaches to problems and challenges bear the mark of creativity — of courage, of talent, of innovative problem solving.

Maya Angelou was the first subject of the series, and her wide accomplishments as a writer, singer, dancer, actress, and teacher were discussed. Angelou commented on the inexhaustibility of creativity. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 3

“You can’t use up creativity,” she stresses. “The more you use, the more you have. It is our shame and our loss when we discourage people from being creative. We set apart those people who should not be set apart, people whom we assume don’t have a so-called artistic temperament, and that is stupid.

“Too often creativity is smothered rather than nurtured. There has to be a climate in which new ways of thinking, perceiving, questioning are encouraged. People also have to feel they are needed.”

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1996, The Wit & Wisdom of Oscar Wilde, Edited by Ralph Keyes, HarperCollins Publishers, New York. (Verified on paper)
  2. 1982, Bell Telephone Magazine, Volume 61, Number 1, Creativity: It’s the Thought that Counts by Mary Ardito, Start Page 32, Quote Page 32, Published by American Telephone and Telegraph Company, New York. (Verified with scans; thanks to Charles Doyle and the University of Georgia, Athens library system)
  3. 1982, Bell Telephone Magazine, Volume 61, Number 1, Creativity: It’s the Thought that Counts by Mary Ardito, Start Page 32, Quote Page 33, Published by American Telephone and Telegraph Company, New York. (Verified with scans; thanks to Charles Doyle and the University of Georgia, Athens library system)

Life Is Not Measured By the Number of Breaths We Take, But By the Moments That Take Our Breath Away

George Carlin? Maya Angelou? Vicki Corona? Hilary Cooper? Kevin Bisch? Will Smith? Philip James Bailey?

yoga08Dear Quote Investigator: The following inspirational quotation has been attributed to a wide variety of people:

Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.

I doubt that this was coined by George Carlin or Maya Angelou though I have seen those ascriptions. Who do you think should be credited?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence known to QI appeared in 1989 in a book for dancers titled “Tahitian Choreographies” by Vicki Corona: 1

Yes, there are so many grueling details and rehearsals to agonize over, but the dances and music of Tahiti add a happy, healthy dimension to our lives! Remember that life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away! Dancing can do that for you!

The above citation was uncovered by the author Phil Bolsta who was writing a book which included a large number of quotations. Bolsta admirably performed extensive research attempting to pin down the sources for the quotations in his book. Bolsta stated on his blog that he contacted Vicki Corona directly to explore the origin of the saying in her book: 2

I was shocked to find this popular quote in a 1989 thirty-two-page booklet on Tahitian dance. I called Vicki Corona on April 17, 2012, and she said that, to the best of her knowledge, the quote was hers because she always wrote original material for the series of dance booklets she produced. However, she acknowledged in a follow-up e-mail: “While I doubt it, there is a possibility that I may have heard that verbiage before and simply went with it, or maybe it just came out from the labyrinths of my mind. Since you’re a writer, also, you know how that works when you’re in the ‘zone’.”

Hence, there is some uncertainty about the origin of this quotation in the mind of the person who employed it in 1989.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1989, Tahitian Choreographies by Vicki Corona, Volume 11, Book 18, Page 36, Dance Fantasy Productions, Printed by Dennis Bolton Enterprises, North Hollywood, California. (Google Books Preview) link
  2. Website: Triumph of the Spirit: Finding Peace and Purpose in a Troubled World, Article title: “Through God’s Eyes”—Sources of Quotes, Webpage description: Source notes for the quotations appearing in the book “Through God’s Eyes” by Phil Bolsta, Date on website: Entry posted in May 10, 2012, Website description: Blog of the author Phil Bolsta. (Accessed bolstablog.wordpress.com on December 16, 2013) link