The career-making reaches of Instagram are not limited to budding models, artists and musicians; 24-year-old poet Rupi Kaur is a New York Times best-selling author for her anthology of poetry and illustrations “Milk and Honey,” which she self-published in 2014 on the topics of love, loss, feminine identity and healing.
After taking a year off from writing to settle into herself with the surprise success of “Milk and Honey” — for which she built a following on Instagram — Kaur is back with “The Sun and Her Flowers,” out on October 3.
“I wrote [‘Milk and Honey’] for myself. It ended up coming out when it did and being self-published because I was going through certain things that I just needed to put all my energy into to distract myself, right?” Kaur says over the phone from Toronto, where she is based. “I was so wrapped up in that and then that thing that I did to just really help heal myself all of a sudden becomes this global sensation. And then you’re like, ‘oh damn it’ — it’s a blessing and you’re so grateful but you’re also not prepared for it at all.”
“Milk and Honey” has now sold over two million copies and has accumulated an international reach. “I just found out I’m the number-one author in Brazil,” Kaur says. “What? That’s so random.”
Kaur knew she would call the second book “The Sun and Her Flowers” back in 2014, but the writing of it became challenging once her name took off. “The year I took off was that moment when life really changed a lot,” she says. “I graduated and ‘Milk and Honey’ came out worldwide in the same month, and then I took off to India for three months because I’m very, very eager and I never allow myself to feel proud of the things that I’ve done; I’m always looking forward and trying to accomplish more. I was like, ‘I’m going to go to India and write a book and it’ll be fantastic because that’s what people do when they go to India, they write a book.’ And I had just watched ‘Eat, Pray, Love.’”
Her trip to the country of her birth ended up being more of a family reunion, and she wouldn’t get to be serious about writing until several months later, when she decamped to California for three months.
“[Taking a break] was difficult to do because when you’re a creator who shares their work online and develops a readership online, you feel this need to consistently create and consistently share,” she says. “I knew that I couldn’t do that anymore because if I did that I wouldn’t be creating the artwork that I felt proud of. I think the reason that I stopped writing for a little bit, other than the fact that life got in the way, was because I feared that I would just recreate ‘Milk and Honey’ and just give it another title. So I guess for me, books or art or whatever, it kind of cooks in [me], it brews for a very long time.”
She describes the second book as a “sibling text” to the first. “It is its own person. It is not exactly like ‘Milk and Honey’ at all, it lives in an entirely different universe,” she says. “But it still has the same nostalgia that ‘Milk and Honey’ has.”
“Milk and Honey” is unsurprisingly a massive hit with the Instagram generation — a population not credited with high physical book sales. But Kaur’s voice has managed to speak to the many young people who have followed her work from their phone screens to her paperback.
“I was writing ‘Milk and Honey’ from the time that I was 17, and I think it was published when I was 21. So that generation would of course relate the most I think,” she says. “When I went to write ‘The Sun and Her Flowers,’ I was writing differently and my style had evolved, and that was really difficult for me to overcome because although I remember having said I wanted the book to be different, I was also struggling with that because I was scared that readers wouldn’t like my work. And I realized, ‘OK wait a minute, that’s not true because as I’ve grown, my readers have also grown.’ Of course young readers are going to find work on social media, and I think it’s great because we get to fall in love with poetry…we really get to figure ourselves out through it.”
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