A poet and rebel: How Insta-sensation Rupi Kaur forced her way to global fame
The incredible story of how 24-year-old Rupi Kaur converted ‘likes’ on Instagram to mega book deals and is making pots of money.
For the last 25 weeks, a certain book has been making quite an unprecedented impact on leading international bestseller lists.
Kaur couldn’t comprehend what the big deal was. After all, the process of shedding the lining of a woman’s womb is as natural as breathing. “I was just amused that this was even as fiery as it was... there were so many reactions that this anxiety and numbness took over and I eventually couldn’t feel anything,” Kaur reminisces in an email interview from Toronto. Was she scared? “Life got extremely busy after that moment, so there was no time to be scared.”
She reposted the photo, pointing out the hypocrisy and double-standards of the social media platform in these words: “i will not apologize for not feeding the ego and pride of misogynist society that will have my body in an underwear but not be okay with a small leak. when your pages are filled with countless photos/accounts where women (so many who are underage) are objectified. pornified. and treated less than human. thank you (sic)”. Her post was shared and re-shared. Instagram caved in, reinstated her photo and apologised.
Threats and insults were hurled at Kaur. Yet her post gathered 91.7k likes, even as her followers swelled. At present, her Instagram has 683k followers.
Though she had been sharing her work anonymously on a blog through high school, in 2013, she made an account on Tumblr and began posting all that she had been writing through the years – using her own name this time, rather than a pseudonym. “tell them I was/the warmest place you knew/and that you turned me cold” reads one poem, which received 16,722 notes on Tumblr.
A number of themes and ideas run through her crisp, raw poems: love, rape, alcoholism, trauma, womanhood, and the processes of hurting and healing. “The pain that all people experience in life and the light that helps them champion through it all – it’s their lives and their stories and their love and will to keep living that moves me to write,” says Kaur. She particularly enjoys writing ‘empowerment’ poems “because it’s like becoming my own best friend and giving myself the advice I need”.
Kaur read hundreds of books while growing up, but none reflected the torment and experiences of her community or the larger South Asian diaspora. “The trauma of South Asian people escapes the confines of our own times. We’re not just healing from what’s been inflicted onto us as children… it is generations of pain embedded into our souls,” she says.
Kaur chose to self-publish milk and honey against the advice of her college professor, who warned her that she might be excluding herself from literary circles. “I sat with myself one day and asked: who is in those prestigious literary circles? Do they represent me? Do they appreciate the topics I write about and the style in which I write? Do those gatekeepers let a demographic like mine through the door? And the answer was no. I was already barred from those literary circles, so self-publishing wouldn’t make a difference.”