A Sikh Story
Updated: Apr 1, 2021
This post has been in my drafts almost all year. It started because of all the issues I was seeing with representation in publishing. Most notably in traditional publishing, starting in January.
I had been building this blog for almost a year, working on my writing, and learning everything I could about publishing from authors, readers, and marketing perspectives. I don't think you can learn about publishing and not grow frustrated with it. Issues with representation and gatekeeping are not exclusive to publishing, but it's an industry I feel I've learned a lot about in the last two years.
Inspired by the work of other amazing book bloggers, I saw a way for me to share my joy of books, but also do my part to support books from marginalized communities.
Often in South Asian spaces, I look for Sikhs and find that our perspectives aren't included. With book blogging I ended up in the same predicament, where I struggled to find and connect with Sikh book bloggers. That's not to say they aren't out there, but I had been blogging for over a year before I was able to connect with one or two other Sikh book bloggers.
So I thought to myself, this is where I can contribute. I can help uplift Sikh stories.
That was when I originally got the idea to put together a living, breathing, list of books by Sikh authors. My hope is for the list to cover multiple genres and age groups. My goal is for the list to grow with time as I learn about more Sikh authors, and as more Sikh stories are told.
Because that's what true representation is. It's when we see ourselves in all of our possibilities.
I have always been a bookworm and for most of my life, yearned to see myself in books. Rupi Kaur was the first Sikh writer that I heard of. I was sure they existed for academic purposes or in the nonfiction genre, but I was young and I wanted to read stories for fun.
When I read Milk & Honey, I was disappointed. I didn't see myself in Rupi Kaur's work. Her poetry, no doubt, resonates with a lot of people, regardless of religion, but I didn't connect with it. In hindsight, I shouldn't have expected her work to cater to me simply because of a shared name. I got caught up in the need to feel represented.
And so my search continued.
In the meantime, so much of the world's perception of Sikhs, and especially Sikh women, was influenced by Rupi Kaur. I have had peers ask me if I've heard of her when they learn my last name. I've heard other Sikh women mention that people always expect their writing to mirror Rupi Kaur's. But we are capable of all kinds of writing, not just poetry.
A consequence of the virality of Rupi Kaur's work, is that for much of the world, her work has become a "single story" for Sikhs, and especially Sikh women. You can listen to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie describe the perils of a single story here.
I do not wish to be boxed into a single story. Our experiences are not uniform. Sikhs, though a strong and passionate community, are not a monolith.
So my goal with this post, and with this list, is to fight that single story. I want us to heal when we share our stories of discrimination but I also want to uplift Sikh stories about joy! I want our existence to be shared and celebrated with the full range of human emotion, and in all of its nuance!
For so long we have been under the impression that we only get so much room at the table. That doesn't have to be the case!
I've seen quite a bit of tension among Sikhs, and in many marginalized communities in how we critique authors from our communities. There's an expectation that you must champion other Sikh's work. I believe you can do that, and also acknowledge that a work is not necessarily for you. If I do not connect with the work of a Sikh author, that doesn't make it any less valid.
It might not represent me or my experiences, but it does represent someone's.
With this list, I hope we can move away from trying to find the perfect Sikh story, and start to accept a variety of Sikh experiences. I hope we can accept each and every one of those stories, and make room for them.
There will always be common themes, and there will always be a majority. But when we box ourselves into this single story, we risk "othering" those who have a different story. By uplifting these authors, I want our stories to expand. I want to see our sangat expand.
In addition to the books below, I recommend you follow publishers like Kashi House and Khalis House!
Harman Kaur - Phulkari
Rupinder Kaur - Rooh
Darshleen Kaur - Love Yourself More
Harpreet M. Dayal - Love Notes
Ishpreet Kaur - Recovery
Bal Kaur - Serene Light
Serena Kaur - All the Words Unspoken
Gurpreet Kaur Sidhu - Storm
Memoirs & Essays:
Meeta Kaur, The Sikh Love Stories Project - Her Name is Kaur
Valerie Kaur - See No Stranger: A Memoir and Manifesto for Revolutionary Love (I am hosting a giveaway for this book because I loved it so much!)
Sabreet Kang Rajeev - Generation Zero: Reclaiming My Parents American Dream
Jvala Singh - 54 Punjabi Proverbs
Hark1Karan - Pind: Portrait of a Village in Rural Punjab
Chaz Fliy & Satpal Singh - The Sikh Art Therapy Collection Vol. 1
Kuljit Kaur - Ancient Nuggets of Wisdom
Ajeet Cour - The Magic of Indian Miniatures,
Inderjeet Singh - Afghan Hindus and Sikhs: History of a Thousand Years
Nidar Singh Nihang & Parmjit Singh - In the Master's Presence: The Sikhs of Hazoor Sahib (Vol 1)
Amandeep Singh Madra & Parmjit Singh - Warrior Saints: Four Centuries of Sikh Military History (Vol 1)
Amandeep Singh Madra - Eyewitness at Amritsar: A Visual History of the 1919 Jallianwala Bagh Massacre
Raj Kaur Khaira - Stories for South Asian Super Girls
Dr. Priya Atwal - Royals and Rebels: The Rise and Fall of the Sikh Empire
Ranveer Singh - Warrior Queen: Rani Sada Kaur
Dr. Nikky Guninder Kaur Singh - Sikhism: An Introduction, The First Sikh: The Life and Legacy of Guru Nanak, The Feminine Principle in the Sikh Vision of the Transcendent, Hymns of the Sikh Gurus, The Birth of the Khalsa: A Feminist Re-Memory of Sikh Identity, Of Sacred and Secular Desire: Anthology of Lyrical Writings from Punjab
Amarpreet Kaur Dhami - Ajooni the Kaurageous
Parveen Kaur Dhillon - Lohri: The Bonfire Festival
Tajinder Kaur Kalia - What is a Patka?
Simran Jeet Singh & Baljinder Kaur - Fauja Singh Keeps Going: The True Story of the Oldest Person to Ever Run a Marathon
Harman S. Pandher - Gurpreet Goes to Gurdwara: Understanding the Sikh Place of Worship
Harpreet M. Dayal - Wilbert the Worm
Harliv Kaur & Jasmine Kaur - My Gurmukhi Khajana
Jasneet Kaur - Dream Big Little Kaur
Be on the look out for the following releases!
Kuljit Kaur - Ancient Jewels of Wisdom
Jaspreet Kaur (Behind the Netra) - Brown Girl Like Me
Xan Kaur - The Beasts They Fed
Anita Kharbanda - Lioness of Punjab
Jasneet Kaur - Dream Big Little Singh
Baljinder Kaur - Kamal's Kes
Kiranjot Kaur - Sangeet and the Missing Beat
Note, wherever possible, links to purchase books throughout this blog post are affiliate links with Bookshop.org. Bookshop.org supports Indie bookstores across the US. If you are able to, please consider shopping for books through a site that supports mom and pop shops in a time where sales are suffering due to Amazon, and now the pandemic.