Instagram poet and author Rupi Kaur criticises UK universities over axing English literature course

·4-min read

Best-selling poet and social media star Rupi Kaur has criticised the decision of some UK universities to scrap English literature courses calling it "horrible" and "sad".

The Instagram poet queen hopes activists and organisations in the UK manage to "fight back" and ensure students have access to literature.

It comes as a small number of universities decided to close their English literature courses, with others expected to cut the undergraduate degree in the near future.

Speaking to Sky News, she said: "It's horrible they could do that. I went to university and studied English and it shaped what I'm doing today so it makes me sad that somebody else who would have loved that path of study, won't have access to that."

Among the universities that have been attacked over their axing of degrees are Sheffield Hallam University, which is reported to be scrapping its English literature course, and Roehampton and Wolverhampton, which have also announced plans to cut their arts and humanities programmes.

It came amid a row over a vow by Rishi Sunak to phase out university degrees that do not improve students' "earning potential".

Punjab-born Kaur, who shot to fame through social media, is now one of the world's most famous poets with 4.5 million followers on Instagram.

In 2014, she self-published her first book, Milk And Honey, which spent 77 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list and sold over eight million copies worldwide.

Ahead of the UK-leg of her world tour, she spoke to Sky News about her successful books, what to expect at the show and how it feels to have her poems banned in Texas.

She said: "The energy in the UK is always welcoming and for me coming to England feels a little bit like home."

When is she performing in the UK?

Kaur, who is on a six-month world tour, will perform eight shows across the UK.

She says her spoken-word show "is still really new to most people".

"This feels very intimate because I'm sharing stories and personal anecdotes amidst the poetry," she added. "It's very much like a party in a sense. Don't expect the show to be quiet and polite - we're loud, we're cheering, we're shouting.

"I'm totally engaged and having conversations throughout the whole show, and that's what makes performing so magical.

"It kind of just feels like a giant sleepover with all of your besties!"

Kaur's early poems were marked by themes that would appear in all of her subsequent work, such as abuse and healing, being an immigrant, love and loss, female empowerment and self-esteem, as well as violence many South Asian women are subjected to.

Poems banned in Texas

And it was because of themes, particularly around sexual assault, that libraries and schools in Texas banned her first book earlier this year.

She said: "It left me speechless and it breaks my heart. It hurts me to know that there are 15- or 16-year-old girls out there in some high school who would have found comfort in a book like Milk And Honey and now won't have access to it because certain groups of people are scared that it's inspiring something horrible in people, which it's not.

"And that's where I get hurt. I really feel for the communities who don't have access to the literature that they would want to access."

Kaur added the recent landmark ruling by the US Supreme Court around abortion rights is another example of where progress has been pushed back.

"I think there is this fear that certain parts of the world have, that are afraid of what an empowered person can look like," she said.

"My books are just one of hundreds of books: there are books that talk about abortion or books that dive into themes of sex, or themes of LGBTQ+ communities - those are all often in discussion of being banned and that just goes to show we're headed in the wrong direction."

It was the power of social media, particularly of Instagram, that helped rocket Kaur's career to where it is today. She believes the platform is "an incredible tool to help democratise the publishing industry".

"When I published my first book in 2014, there was very little space for somebody like me, a Punjabi Sikh immigrant woman," she added.

"Social media has allowed people who wouldn't otherwise have been given the space by gatekeepers, to now take up the space. And so I feel like, over the last 10 years, social media has really helped even out the playing field, but there's still so much work to do."