Upon learning that her first book of poetry was under fire from critics in Texas, Rupi Kaur’s first reaction was grief.
His collection of poems, milk and honeywidely acclaimed when it was released in 2014, is partly inspired by her experience with sexual assault and gender-based violence.
It is also, now, among many books that have been targeted by conservative parenting groups for dealing with themes of race, gender and sexuality.
“It makes me really sad for young readers, because at the end of the day it’s young readers who suffer,” Kaur told CBC News.
“Young readers who would otherwise have found comfort or learned valuable information not only in my book, but there are hundreds of books right now that lawmakers are trying to ban, not just in Texas but in many other states.”
Kaur said last month on Instagram that parts of Texas and Oregon “banned or attempted to banhis book in schools and libraries. According to NBC News, “it has been flagged for removal” in the Keller Independent School District in Texas. It allegedly prompted a similar complaint last year at a high school in Roseburg, Ore.
Kaur, from Brampton, Ontario, was 21 when milk and honey was published and became an international phenomenon. His minimalist writing style pioneered what some have called a new genre, dubbed “Instapoetry,” a portmanteau referencing Instagram.
Discouraged by teachers, Kaur self-published and promoted the book on social media, connecting with young people who bonded over her articles about relationships, survival and femininity.
Kaur says she wrote the kind of book she wanted — or even needed — to read as a teenager.
At the time, there wasn’t much of a market for poetry, and most poetry sections in bookstores were filled with deceased authors, she said.
Now some young people in Texas who can’t afford to buy their own copies won’t have easy access to these stories, Kaur says — a profound loss for those for whom reading books is a balm and an escape.
“I remember growing up I didn’t have access to therapy and other mental health tools, so reading books was what I really relied on for support” , she said.
Kaur, who was born to Punjabi-Sikh parents in India before moving to Canada at age four, says people are becoming more comfortable and open about the immigrant experience.
But she says she hopes the industry will also make room for uncharted narratives – moving beyond familiar tropes like “the model minority, or the hard-working immigrant who comes, crosses the sea, crosses the ocean on a dollar in the pocket”.
“I think there are so many immigrant stories, so many communities, and I can’t wait for them to have more space.”