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The Canadian poet, illustrator, photographer, and author Rupi Kaur was born on 4 October 1992. She emigrated to Canada with her family from Punjab, India. She started writing and performing poetry in 2009, on Instagram, eventually becoming a popular "Instapoet."

Early life and Family

She was born in Punjab, India, on 4 October 1992.  Kaur emigrated to Canada with her parents to escape the persecution of Sikhs when she was three years old. Her father had left before, due to hate crimes against Sikh men, and wasn't present when Kaur was born.  Due to financial instability, he would send back supplies that would suit Kaur's upbringing and needs. Kaur,with her parents and three younger siblings, shared a bed in the basement apartment. Eventually, her family finally relocated to Brampton, Ontario, alongside a significant South Asian diaspora community, while her father worked as a truck driver.

Kaur says that while growing up, she developed a "constant survival mode" as a result of the environment she lived in. Her mother's accent embarrassed Kaur as a child and she tried to distance herself from her. She was generally self-conscious of her identity. Her mother was occasionally distant from Kaur, as a result of her family and culture,  especially during the time, Kaur was menstruating. The childhood abuse faced by Kaur often left her crippled. Her relationship with her parents, particularly her mother, became turbulent during her adolescence; they experienced extensive arguments over mundane activities which she later interpreted as a desire to preserve their original culture. Her coy demeanor was a result of witnessing her parents being the target of bigotry when she was a little child; she had seen friends and family suffer from domestic abuse and sexual abuse.

She spent several years performing kirtan and classical Indian music. Rupi aspired of becoming an astronaut, a social worker, or a fashion designer, but her goals were erratic, and her father forbade her from pursuing the latter in college. From a young age, she exhibited a desire to read, since, to her, it relieved her loneliness. Although she now has a Canadian accent she didn’t learn English until the age of 10. She viewed her love of reading as akin to friendship. In fourth grade, she began to gain confidence and social skills.  

She participated in "speech competitions" throughout middle school, and won one in seventh grade. This gave her hope and helped her move forward despite being bullied and isolated. Due to her vulnerability and appearance, Kaur claimed that she was a target for ridicule and had to face comments from both her parents and peers. Her confidence grew after sixth grade, and she discovered her voice through writing and performing. She found comfort in poetry while she struggled with her self-consciousness; she read works by J. K. Rowling, Amrita Pritam, Maya Angelou, Roald Dahl, and Dr. Seuss, among other authors.

Career

Early work: An overview (2009-2013)

Kaur says that she had a strong desire to express herself through the visual arts but had no idea that being a poet or an illustrator could be a profession.  She attended the University of Waterloo in Ontario to study rhetoric and professional writing. In 2009, she started performing poems live. She claims that performing poetry is a mystical experience. Even though she thought spoken-word poetry was "very natural," she would squirm with the paper over her face and, out of anxiety, would leave before the audience applauded. Early on, so many people around her thought it was ridiculous. Initially, her poetry received a lukewarm reception, having been called too aggressive or making people uncomfortable. 

After leaving an abusive relationship, Kaur began writing to express her trauma, which led to her decision to perform poetry: "I wanted to find a voice because I had been voiceless for so long.” She gives voice to issues such as violence, abuse, love, loss, and family.

At university, her writing became more reflective. Having previously written about boys she liked and political changes she wanted to see in the world - although she was ignorant about the topic, she would write poems critiquing the Canadian government. She would often be in conflict with her mother over her decision to pursue a career in poetry. Kaur shared her writing anonymously throughout high school. She took the stage surname Kaur because "Kaur is the name of every Sikh woman removed from the caste system in India, and wouldn't a young Kaur feel empowered if she saw her name in a book store?". 

She began sharing her work anonymously on Tumblr in 2013, then moved to Instagram in 2014 where she added simple illustrations. She began to gather a cult following about this time, at times, she had 600 attendees at her shows, her career thus so far based  on "almost" word-of-mouth.  The first poem she posted on Instagram dealt with a wife dealing with her husband's alcoholism. She described the experience as liberating. 

Milk and Honey

She initially tried submitting her poetry to literary journals, magazines, and anthologies with little success. After starting work at the age of 18, Kaur self-published her debut book, Milk & Honey, on Createspace on November 4, 2014. More than 10,000 copies of her collection of poems, Milk and Honey, were sold. Kaur recalled that she had been reluctant to submit to magazines or journals as she felt Milk and Honey was a ‘body of work and would lose its essence if dismantled. 

As Kaur gained popularity on social media, Milk and Honey was republished by Andrews McMeel Publishing, which saw her work alongside an editor for the first time. It was a "blockbuster" success that, as of 2017, had sold 2.5 million copies worldwide and had been translated into 25 languages. That same year, it was the best-selling book in Canada. 

In her 22nd year, she founded a company that employed seven people. Her team often manages her social media while she is writing. Milk and Honey's success was later described as surreal, with a deeply sentimental and inspiring attachment. 

The Sun and Her Flowers

Following a three-month writing trip in California, Kaur's second book, The Sun and Her Flowers, was published on 3rd October 2017, She describes it as "one long continuous poem that goes on for 250 pages", "which while birthed in Instagram, is a concept that depends on being bound".The book has been translated into numerous languages and has sold upwards of a million copies by 2020. Her poetry sales generated nearly $1.4 million in 2018. 

In the same year, Kaur was in India on a seven-city tour, where her first stop was a literary festival in Jaipur. She says, “It was as if I had waited my whole life for this moment. It was my only show, where I wasn’t nervous. The crowd was energetic.” 

Home Body

Kaur released her new poetry collection, Home Body, on 17 November 2020. Kaur illustrated the collection, and it turned out to be one of the best-selling books of 2020. Home Body, in Kaur's view, is a product of the COVID-19 pandemic. She began work in 2018, during a time of r depression, and finished it amid reflection. It explores the genocide of her people, misogyny, and heartbreak counterposed with freedom.

During the COVID-19 outbreak, Kaur moved back into her parents' Brampton home and started giving workshops on Instagram Live, due to feelings of isolation and dread and a desire to engage with her audience. She promotes a therapeutic and natural approach to writing with her students. 

In April 2021, Kaur self-released a poetry special, Rupi Kaur Live, consisting of poetry readings and anecdotes accompanied by visuals and music after being turned down by streaming services. The show finally got a one-hour on Amazon Original special and it was streamed in North America exclusively on Amazon Prime Video. “Rupi Kaur Live” weaves together Kaur’s passion and creative talent in one illustrious work as she guides the audience and fans through a vibrant and transcendent journey about growth and healing.

Kaur says that her work draws inspiration from the Sikh scriptures and has assisted in her own spiritual and personal development. She’s also devoted herself to studying Sikh history as a way of connecting with her past and her heritage, and much of what she’s learned has also found its way into her work. For Sikh women, she sends across the message that, “We have to define our journey in Sikhi in a way that is comfortable for us. We have to let go of the pressure society is throwing at us. It is your journey with the universe and that’s it.And we must practice the basics. Loving, Sharing, Giving, Accepting others, not judging those around us.”

Kaur says that it is important to her that the literature she writes is powerful and connects with the readers. Kaur's journey of empowerment resonates with young women who hear their own fears and joys echoed for the first time. It gives them a chance to fight back and stand out as uniquely as possible. Kaur lets her readers be flawed, vulnerable, and still complete, as she is. She is a powerful messenger for women without a voice, fighting for attention to these taboos of society through her art.

 

 

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