Rupi Kaur Self-Releases Poetry Special After Being Turned Down By Streaming Services: 'A Journey'
Rupi Kaur has had to fight every step of the way for her voice to be heard — and now, it's coming to the small screen.
The best-selling poet, artist and performer's first-ever taped show, Rupi Kaur Live, will premiere globally on April 30 at 9 p.m. EST. The one-hour special, filmed in early 2020 at the Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles, features Kaur performing poetry from all three of her collections: milk and honey, the sun and her flowers and home body, and speaking with her trademark intimacy and candor about the inspiration behind her work.
"It's been a journey," Kaur tells PEOPLE of self-releasing the show after traditional streaming networks turned it down. "Any time you're doing something new that people aren't used to, people can be resistant. But we keep chipping away at it," she explains.
Kaur, 28, is no stranger to self-publishing her work: at 21, she wrote, illustrated and self-published milk and honey, a No. 1 New York Times bestseller collection of poetry and prose that explores themes of trauma, heartache, self-empowerment and renewal, all through the lens of being a multicultural young woman (Kaur is Canadian and Indian). That book, along with the sun and her flowers, have gone on to sell over 8 million copies globally and have been translated into over 42 languages. Her highly anticipated third collection, home body, was released in November during the pandemic and became an instant bestseller.
But despite her impressive reach and her massive following (over 4 million on Instagram), she says that streaming services were still hesitant to take on her poetry special, much to her initial disappointment.
"It's such a déjà vu," she says. "I guess this is the theme of my life now ... It's always been like this. I always end up self-publishing, self-releasing, self, self, self, self, self," she continues.
"It was shocking and heartbreaking," she says of being turned down, after those around her had assured her it would sell. Quoting her manager Rakhi Mutta on her website, she explains, "They all said no. They don't see where the show would fit on their platform. They don't get it. They don't believe that people want to watch this type of content."
Kaur pushed forwards and ultimately found a silver lining. "What I am thankful for is I got to, like with all of my other projects, have full creative control over it. And I've had that with my books, where I can design everything from the cover to what the page paper looks like," she says. "It's such a full circle moment."
"I'm very excited for people to experience it and to see it, to hear what they think," she says of the cinematic experience, in which she opens up about topics ranging from depression and Instagram trolls to orgasms and self-love.
Speaking about those topics with PEOPLE, Kaur — who exercises, walks and meditates to remain healthy — says she feels mental health is a "constant journey that we will never really cross the finish line [of]."
"One of the [symptoms of] depression, at least for me, is I just like to isolate myself," she explains. "And the thought of even calling a friend and having a conversation seems so exhausting. But when I'm having those thoughts, I'm like, 'No, no, no, no, no. You need to come back up. Come for air and call a friend and reach out.' And I think that's what saves me every time."
Part of what inspires Kaur to share her struggles is the hope that it will help others who are dealing with the same issues to feel less alone. "One thing that helped me so much was to see people that I admire admit that they also struggle with [their mental health]. That was such a relief," she says. "So I was like, it's really important. If I can say that I also struggle with this, then it will make so many of my readers feel seen."
That vulnerability is palpable on the page and in her performances. Kaur started off performing spoken word poetry in high school before sharing some of her lengthier poems on Tumblr, where they began to circulate and garner praise.
"For so long I separated the two," she says. "And suddenly everyone knew me for the short stuff. And then I hid the fact that I did all of the performance stuff, and then I think I really married the two about back in maybe 2016. I didn't even know what the hell I was doing," says Kaur. "It's resulted in this live show."
Now, the "genre-bending" show brings together all of Kaur's passions in one place, and is available for one weekend only. Rupi Kaur Live will be available for 48 hours only, and tickets are available on her website here.