Rupi Kaur found the stage by accident. She was going through a horrible breakup at the time and came across a flyer that was advertising an open mic night at her local community center in Brampton, Ontario, Canada. She threw together a poem—”It was really shitty”—and got up there, in front of 20 people, and read it, Kaur tells me over video at her parent’s house in Brampton. “When I got up there and I said my piece, it was the first time that I felt like, ‘Woah, people are listening to me,’” recalls Kaur, who once described herself as “invisible” and “a fly on the wall.” “When you don’t feel heard at all, and suddenly you’re being heard, it’s so electric.” Ever since then, she fell in love with performing.
Now, the stage is all set for Kaur’s biggest act yet: a world tour. She’s been on tour before (you can get a taste in her Amazon Prime special Rupi Kaur Live), but this one is different from anything she’s ever done before. “This show is going to be an hour long and it’s going to be like you’re going to a show on Broadway and you’re watching a play,” says Kaur. “And that’s really exciting for me because it’s a challenge. I haven’t done that before.” She hopes this tour will encourage more young people to go to the theater, especially people like her, who never had access to it growing up.
The poems that were once kept to herself—doodles and drawings with words in the corners of her school notebooks—were the beginning stages of her poetry that we know and love today: raw, honest, captivating, heartbreaking, empowering. “Performance gave me the permission to not become someone else but to break out of my shyness and break out of the mold that people already saw me in. Then I could go on stage and become the woman I wanted to be in my head, who was loud and sassy and opinionated. Now, slowly, I feel like I’m becoming her in my daily life.”
Labelled as the modern poet of our generation (and with three New York Times best-selling books under her belt and 8 million copies sold), Kaur has—by definition—reached success. When Milk and Honey catapulted her career, it also came with many challenges: grappling with self-doubt, newfound fame and internet trolls. “There’s that freedom that artists lose when their art becomes something that can be sold to the public, and you have to fight for that freedom,” says Kaur. One of the ways she does this is by reclaiming poetry as a form of self-care. Although she loves pottery, embroidery and painting, “nothing feels as potent as poetry. Words are so powerful,” she says.
There’s that freedom that artists lose when their art comes something that can be sold to the public, and you have to fight for that freedom.
But what happens when something you love also becomes debilitating? Kaur admits she experienced tons of self-doubt while writing her third book, Home Body. “I had to meditate every single day before writing because if I didn’t, I might break down, cry and delete everything off of my computer,” she says. “The self-doubt and the fear probably will only grow, and so, I just need to figure that out. I never used to have it. I honestly only felt it after the success of Milk and Honey. Before that, I wasn’t afraid of shit because I had nothing to lose.”
Today, Kaur doesn’t define success through money, achievements, or status. Instead, “I feel successful [when] I am learning to do things for myself and I’m spending my time doing things that make me laugh, which is hanging out with my friends and my family,” she says. “Nothing makes me feel more complete than when I’m with my people.”
When asked what she would tell her younger self, she said, “Girl, you have no idea what is coming and it’s going to feel like you’re not going to be fine, but you’ll be fine.” Turns out, she was more than fine.
Who are you inspired by?
“I’m inspired by conversation and people, like everyday people. It’s people you meet at the bus stop. They’re strangers, but their story changes your life. I think that’s really inspiring.”
How do you unwind?
“It’s really basic, actually. I like tea, and then I’ll probably have some dates, if I’m trying to be healthy. Then I like to watch Netflix. I love watching TV. I’ve watched everything. I just finished Why Women Kill, Season 1, and I’m excited to watch Narcos: Mexico, Season 3.”
How many unread emails do you have right now?
“In my work email, I have 400 unread emails. In my personal, I have 4,661. At a certain point, I don’t even see the number anymore.”
What do you look for in an employee?
“Somebody who’s kind, somebody who’s passionate about learning and growing. If you’re not a team player, you just won’t fit in [on my team].”
Best piece of advice you ever got?
“‘Don’t lean in too much to the positive and that’ll help you not lean too much into the negative comments as well.’ Those pieces of advice have definitely helped with my mental health.”
Worst piece of advice you ever got?
“‘You should write another book.’ ‘You should date this person to stay relevant.’ When people think they’re helping you by telling you how to be not authentic to yourself and not genuine for popularity.”