English alum Rupi Kaur makes top seller list

With 324K followers on Instagram and a best-selling collection of poems, Rupi Kaur is an emerging feminist artist touching on issues of love, violence, and healing in women’s lives. In just over two years, Kaur (BA ’15 English) has gone from self-publishing to landing on the Amazon top seller list for Canadian literature, alongside literary icons like Margaret Atwood. Her book, Milk and Honeyalso made it into the second spot for the Amazon best seller list for poetry.


Kaur, a recent Waterloo grad, is drawing hundreds of fans to her readings around Toronto and her online community has gone international with posts of support. Mainstream media has also taken note with the Huffington Post calling Kaur’s work, “beautifully honest poems read like the everyday, collective experiences of today’s modern woman.”

As a Waterloo student, Kaur juggled her academic courses and co-op terms with performance gigs and writing poetry on the side. Kaur, who graduated last year, said:  “I explored my passion for writing at Waterloo – I took writing breaks from my homework and became hooked.”

First self-published poetry edition sold 17,000 copies

The product of that passion was Milk and Honey, a self-published book of nearly 200 poems and line drawings that was picked up last fall for a second printing by Andrews McMeel Publishing after quickly selling the initial 17,000 copies. Her new publisher added Spanish and e-book versions.

Written in spare yet piercing language, Kaur describes her work as “a collection of poetry and prose about survival and the experience of violence, abuse, love, loss, and femininity.”

She is emerging as a strong feminist artist and a voice for her generation as the fan comments show:

  • “I am not usually one for poetry, but Rupi Kaur’s book really spoke to me.”
  • “I loved it, and re-read it often. Every time I do, something new resonates.”
  • “Touches issues that tend to stay hidden because of shame culture”
  • “Read her poetry, it will change your life.”

A few months after the release of Milk and Honey, Kaur unleashed an online viral sensation with her project entitled period. – a final assignment for her Visual Rhetoric course with Professor Beth Coleman.

Poet advanced design, writing, and marketing skills in English program

“The Rhetoric and Professional Writing program taught me actual skill sets and provided a framework for literary analysis. It taught me what moves an audience and what doesn’t. I gained the skills of design, marketing, creative writing and branding.”

The easy route for sharing her poetry would to be to simply post them online. But, for Kaur, the poems had to be made tactile as a print collection. “The Internet wasn’t enough for me because the poetry couldn’t reach everyone it needed to reach by solely being online. The poetry needed to seep onto bookshelves and into libraries.

Co-op terms built job skills

“During my first co-op term I learned to use Adobe InDesign – which I eventually used to design Milk and Honey. In my last co-op job I mastered Adobe Illustrator, which I used for my illustrations.”
To students who want to build a career in art, Kaur says: “You have to work tirelessly. Sure you don’t get paid for a while. But work anyway. The tangible things will come. Trust me, there is nothing more liberating and freeing than being able to do what you love. Everything worth doing is difficult. So keep doing it.”

This story originally appeared on UWaterloo Arts.

Lawrence Hill and Rachel Dolezal? How?

The case of Rachel Dolezal, the American civil rights activist who passed for black until her parents outed her as white, illustrated that human identity — including racial identity — is evolving, complex and sometimes impossible to define.  Are you black? white? Jewish? Christian? Are you a full citizen in your country, or are you seen as an undocumented migrant hiding in a country of refuge? Lawrence Hill will share observations that he has raised on the subject of individual identity in his latest novel, The Illegal, and in his other works of fiction and non-fiction including The Book of Negroes and his 2013 Massey Lectures book Blood: the Stuff of Life.

Lawrence Hill is the author of ten books, including The Illegal and The Book of Negroes, and winner of various awards, including The Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and CBC Radio’s Canada Reads. Hill delivered the 2013 Massey Lectures, based on his non-fiction book Blood: The Stuff of Life. He co-wrote the adaptation for the six-part television miniseries The Book of Negroes. He is currently writing a new novel, as well as a screenplay adaptation of The Illegal for Conquering Lion Pictures. Mr. Hill volunteers with Crossroads International and with the Black Loyalist Heritage Society, and lives with his family in Hamilton, ON and in Woody Point, NL.

Date: Friday, March 4, 2016 – 7:30pm
Location:  C. L. Siegfried Hall, St. Jerome’s University, University of Waterloo

Free Parking in Visitors Lot | Free of Charge | Wheelchair Accessible | No Registration Required

New Literary Reflections on Blackness

You know when you are ridiculously happy to book a trip, or see a concert, or visit with someone you’ve missed? This is how I feel about Sharon Morgan Beckford-Foster coming to speak at UWaterloo. I have her book Naturally Woman: The Search for Self in Black Canadian Women’s Literature on my shelf, and have suggested it to others. I am absolutely thrilled she will be here.

Please join English Language & Literature at 3:30 p.m. on Friday, February 26 for a talk by Sharon Morgan Beckford-Foster (Rochester Institute of Technology), titled “From Nomad to Modern Citizen: New Literary Reflections on Blackness in Richard Wright’s Philosophy of History.”

Dr. Beckford-Foster is Associate Professor and Chair of English at RIT and the author of Naturally Woman: The Search for Self in Black Canadian Women’s Literature (2011). Her current book project, from which this talk is drawn, is titled Richard Wright and His Modeling of ‘West Indians’ as Modern Citizens.

The talk is open to the university community and the public. Please feel free to circulate this message and the attached poster widely.

Spend the afternoon with the author AND the book

Welcome back to the winter installation of the Reading Series! We’re continuing our theme of Alternate Realities this term beginning with Steve Noyes.

Please join us on 11 February at 4:20 in STJ 2009.

Steve Noyes is from Winnipeg and was educated at Carleton University’s School of Journalism and U.B.C.’s MFA program. Over the years he has worked at many jobs, including editor, parking lot attendant, printing press grunt and disabilities advocate. More recently, he has taught English in Chinese universities several times and spent more than a decade as a policy analyst in the BC Ministry of Health.

Steve has published nine books of fiction and poetry, and more than a hundred journal publications in Canadian literary magazines and newspapers. His most recent poetry collections are small data (Frog Hollow Press) and Rainbow Stage-Manchuria (Oolichan Books). His first novel, It is just that your house is so far away (Signature Editions), prompted reviewers to call it “a portrait of China that is honest, intimate and layered” and “a wonderful book.”

These days, Steve divides his time between Victoria, where he lives with his wife, the poet Catherine Greenwood, and Canterbury, England, where is he pursuing a PhD in Writing at the University of Kent.

To find out more about Steve, please visit his website.

Professor Lamees Al Ethari on Refugee Experiences

Lamees Al Ethari
, PhD, is a lecturer in the Department of English Language and Literature. On March 15, she will participate in a Faculty of Arts panel addressing global and local perspectives on the Syrian and other refugee crises. Here she provides a guest blog post, courtesy of UWaterloo Arts.

Hear their stories: Welcoming and understanding refugees
-Lamees Al Ethari

Watching Syrian refugees arrive in Canada these past few weeks has ignited memories of displacement and migration for me and my family. I am not a refugee. I have not been stranded in UN camps that provided the basic needs for human survival. I have, however, lived through the traumatic experience of war and displacement. I have stood for hours at the borders of neighboring countries and pleaded with officers as they rummaged through my clothes and threatened to send me back on the long, dangerous route to Baghdad that seemed to never end. As an Iraqi, I lived through both Gulf Wars and was forced in 2006 to find some way out of the country in order to escape the constantly rising violence and instability that plagued Iraq. We left Baghdad with three suitcases of our belongings and a prayer for better days to come.

The experiences of trauma and displacement were not issues that we easily overcame or dealt with. At times, I feel that I can still smell the scents of morning as I wake up at my grandfather’s home surrounded by family. At times, I am jolted awake by memories of American troops raiding our streets. I am always burdened by mixed feelings of unquenchable longing for a home that is no longer there and a life that has dissolved in the midst of conflict, fear and hate.

I do not believe we will ever fully recover from that experience, however through supporting each other and finding support in the communities that surrounded us we were able to focus on moving forward and constructing a new sense of belonging and identity here in Canada. We have learned to establish a home and a way of life that integrates both our culture and our beliefs with the diverse cultures and beliefs of those around us here in Kitchener-Waterloo.

The excitement and interest surrounding the arrival of Syrian refugees that I have witnessed in the past couple of months is heartwarming. People in our communities are doing their best to support the cause both here and abroad. However, as the excitement recedes, we have to acknowledge some issues when we deal with these families and individuals. While there is no formula to follow when dealing with people in such traumatic situations, we can still keep in mind some of the following points:

  1. First and foremost, remember that these people may have suffered the loss of family members and friends, the loss of traditions and culture, and of course the loss of home. They are struggling with accepting this loss and are most likely traumatized.
  2. The whole concept of a new “home” is in itself traumatizing. Trying to adjust to new weather conditions, new positions in society, and a new sense of identity is not an easy shift. That little hyphen (Arab or Syrian-Canadian) is heavy with issues of confusion, acceptance and belonging.
  3. Although, everyone thinks about the topic of language, not many focus on its ability to create a strong sense of isolation. The inability to express certain emotions or certain concepts because they cannot be translated is very difficult. The language barrier plays a major role in leading people to avoid socializing and adjusting.
  4. Canadian and Middle Eastern cultures are different, but that does not mean that these people have been isolated from the world. Arab culture and Arab media has evolved greatly in the past few years and people have come to accept many aspects of Western culture.
  5. That said, however, many families still hold to strict cultural and religious ideologies because they were raised within societies that enforced them. The idea is to accept who they are, not change them.
  6. The process of adjustment will take time. That sense of gratefulness may not easily surface because there is so much to take in during this move to resettle and adjust.

Most importantly, listen. Each of these individuals is unique and each one of these Syrians has a personal narrative that tells a story of a journey, of loss and of trying to find content within the safe borders of a new home.

Re-posted from Waterloo Arts.

Trenton McNulty reflects on first year

This is such a thoughtful reflection on first year, choices, and how to make the most of it all, that I really can’t think of anything to add. As soon as you read on, you’ll understand how lucky we are that Trenton elected to study English at UWaterloo.–JLH

JLH: What made you chose English at UWaterloo?
TM: Well, choosing a university and choosing English were actually two very different decisions for me. I think back then I knew that I wanted to do English, but finding a school that catered to my needs came first. Of all the schools I applied to, UWaterloo was the only one that really stuck out in my mind: it was recommended by some of my closest friends, and it was far enough away that I could live in residence, but still go home occasionally. When I toured the campus, there was something that set it apart from the other schools I’d seen – it felt familiar, like I could be comfortable there. That was really important to me.

I think more than anything, though, my choice was a result of the flexibility UWaterloo allows its students. The Honours Arts program, which I applied under, allowed me the freedom to pick and choose my courses for first year. I could shop around, test the waters, all without feeling tied down to any one decision. But my experiences throughout that first term really reminded me why, more than any other subject, English was what I was passionate about. The university atmosphere was intimidating, sure, but my professors really made me feel like I fit in. Like I was getting it, so to speak. It didn’t take long for me to be sure of my decision.

JLH: You’ve expressed an interest in co-op. What makes that particularly appealing? Have you started looking at the on-campus resources?
TM: Co-op was definitely an influence in my choice of school. A huge influence, actually. I knew Waterloo was famous for co-op, but I was actually really surprised to find that the program accommodated for English. As far as I can tell, UWaterloo is the only university to offer that type of comprehensive experience for English majors. It alleviated my main concern about university – that after four years I would walk out of school with no practical experience, holding a degree that, while personally significant to me, wouldn’t be as appealing to employers. While I now see just how valuable an English degree can be, co-op did a lot to put those worries to rest. I’ll be able to get real, practical experience, and better understand how my skills in the classroom translate to those in the workplace. If I’m lucky, I’ll graduate with zero student debt. That’s an extremely liberating feeling.

As for the on-campus resources, I have checked out a few online, but as of yet I haven’t gotten in contact with my academic advisor. As I understand it though, I don’t have to worry about registering until the end of this term. I can just focus on my schoolwork for now, and let future-me deal with it. Good luck, future-me.

JLH: Did anything surprise you in your first semester? Reflecting on it, are there things you might have done differently?
TM: I tried not to have any expectations going in, but on reflection it’s really striking just how different university and high school can be – at least in terms of personal responsibility. Sure, we still go to class, we listen, we take notes. But because of the smaller, much more personal environment of high school, there’s a greater obligation to actually do these things. You feel present, like you’re a part of your education. The constant back and forth between students and teachers and peers means that even if you fall behind someone notices.

That’s not the case with university – at least when you’re starting out. I remember walking into Psych 101 on the first day of class and being completely overwhelmed by the size, the noise, the rows upon rows of people. I didn’t feel like a part of that class – I felt like a spectator. Because of this disconnect, it was an uphill battle not to brush off assignments or miss a class here or there. If I did, no one would care. I wouldn’t feel the consequences of my mistake for weeks, maybe even months. If I were to do it all over again, I actually wouldn’t change that experience. It taught me that I can’t ever just scrape by – that with university you get out exactly what you put in.

The same thing applies outside the classroom as well. University lends you more freedom, sure, but it also demands a greater degree of proactivity. Unlike high school, you can’t just fall into friends by virtue of seeing them five times a week – you have to go to clubs, study groups, events on campus. If you don’t, you’re not going to make friends, and you run the danger of going through the day without saying a single word. Unfortunately, I speak from experience. So that’s the one thing I would change.

JLH: Are you mapping out your future courses or specializations?
TM: I don’t know if I’m definitively mapping things out (as a general rule I try not to), but there are quite a few English courses that really cater to what I’m passionate about. Popular Potter, Science Fiction, Creative Writing, and Game Studies are just a few that stand out to me – particularly the last one.

Plain and simple, I love video games. I know a lot of people like to brush them off as either juvenile or lacking in substance, but I honestly believe they have the potential to be even more compelling than books and movies – especially because they combine aspects of both. Through narrative, lore, and player choice, games have the ability to immerse players in a world like no other medium can. It’s why, of all the specializations offered by the English Department, Digital Media Studies, really stands out to me as one worth pursuing. It’s something I think I’ll always be excited about.

JLH: Finally, what words of advice might you have for other first year students?
TM: I’m probably the least qualified person to give advice, but if I had to do so, it would be this:

You’re not going to be your best, and that’s okay.

The thing with university, and I guess life in general, is that at some point you’re going to feel like you’re not good enough. Going from high school to university is a big change – you’re surrounded by people just as competent and passionate as you are. It’s intimidating, and you’re going to feel that. Be it failing an exam, handing in a poor assignment, or simply feeling out of place – it will happen. When it does, you can’t afford to beat yourself up over it. The only thing you can do is forgive yourself and move on. Try to do better. Be better.

Alumna and author Carrie Snyder on Writing

Girl Runner
When I read this blog post by alumna Carrie Snyder, it resonated with me. Carrie
was shortlisted for the 2014 Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize for her novel Girl Runner, as well as the 2012 Governor General’s Award for her collection The Juliet Stories, so she’s definitely qualified to talk about writing. On my side, I’ve been teaching a first year English course to Math and Computing students, and trying to convince them that writing is hard work, and practice is important. At the same time, we’re discussing how to let go of something you put a lot of effort into because it’s not working. This post should resonate with anyone thinking about writing, whether fiction or academic. Thank you to Carrie for letting us share.–JLH

Word of the year 2015: WRITE

My word for last year was WRITE.

I wrote a lot. I’m not sure any of it will be published, although it does seem to have informed the project I’m working on now—its value is incalculable, in other words, and I think maybe that became the point for me as the year progressed. I wrote to understand why I write, and to be disciplined, and the more I wrote the more I understood that I love writing, and that I don’t need to remind myself to write because it is intrinsic to my being, it is how I create, most naturally, it is my chosen discipline. Maybe within this, by following and exploring this word, I allowed myself to write that which I didn’t consider to be publishable; I allowed myself to explore, to roam, to wander, to try, to experiment, to follow where led rather than pushing.

I did some pushing in the first half of the year; and the second half of the year, I’m seeing now, was quite different—I wrote a new novel manuscript in the first half of the year because I felt that I needed to; and when it was done, I saw that it wasn’t ready and I’ve yet to sort out whether I can ever make it ready, and so, for now, I’ve let it go. I let it go, and for the second half of the year I let myself write other things instead, things I suspected a publisher wouldn’t be interested in; I decided that my own calculations and guesses about a publisher’s interest didn’t matter, couldn’t matter, and that I needed to write what was welling up inside of me. And that’s been really wonderful.

Writing is my livelihood. But when I focus on its potential to earn me a living, it dies, somehow. I think that’s what I learned this year.

I allowed myself to be reacquainted, really fundamentally, with the idea that a writer is someone who, when faced with a blank page, does not know anything. (To paraphrase Donald Barthelme.) It’s terrifying; it’s thrilling. It means I don’t know what I’ll find, and it means I’ll definitely find a lot of things I’m not looking for, the value of which may not be explicit or recognizable. As hard as it is, I have to write even knowing that I may never write anything publishable, anything that earns money ever again. I don’t see that as a sad thing. It’s made me assess what I value, and how I assign value to the things that I do—how I spend my time.

Unexpectedly, I feel far more confident as a writer than I ever have before. Maybe because I’ve recognized that writing & invention through writing is intrinsic to my being. I’m less afraid of the scarce resources in the publishing industry. It doesn’t scare me to consider the possibility that I may never publish again, that there are no guarantees of success. I know and believe that what I’m doing has value—I value it. And I want to celebrate the wonderful words and stories of others. The success of other writers doesn’t feel like a threat to my own existence as a writer (we don’t talk about it much in this industry, but the professional jealousy that can arise from scrambling to secure scarce resources has corrosive potential on a personal level.)

I can’t explain this sense of calm and purpose. Will it stay with me? It may not, it’s true. I accept that change is eternal. But it feels like there’s been a shift over this past year in how I approach my writing, and the shift feels fundamental.

Next up: Word of the Year 2016. Stay tuned.

Thanks to Carrie Snyder for permission to re-post from her blog, Obscure Canlit Mama.