“We have calcium in our bones, iron in our veins, carbon in our souls, and nitrogen in our brains. 93 percent stardust, with souls made of flames, we are all just stars that have people names.” This quote by poet Nikita Gill can be found on the first page of fourth-year student Sriya Donthi’s “because you’re made of stardust,” her debut collection of poetry. Donthi self-published under the name Sri K. in July, a culmination of over two years of work.
Donthi started writing poetry in late middle school. “I was at Barnes & Noble with my sister and came across the poetry section and started picking up books based on their covers,” Donthi said. “It just so happened that in my English class, we were doing a poetry unit at the same time and I got to experiment with it.”
Since then, Donthi has experimented with various forms of poetry, including spoken word and prose, performing at some virtual open mics, including her own event on Instagram Live with about 10 other poets last April, which went out to an audience of 326 people.
Although she started her account around four years ago, she only started actively using it in the past 18 months. “It was tough because at first there was criticism and I didn’t have many followers and nobody was liking my posts, but [eventually I realized] that the numbers didn’t mean anything, because every single time that I did post, there were a few people that loved it and reached out and said ‘that meant something to me.’”
This support has come from both readers of her work and fellow writers. “All these writers always talk to each other, they always support each other’s work,” she said of the Instagram poetry community she discovered, which reaches as far as countries like India, Australia, the Netherlands and Singapore.
Donthi’s Instagram account @poetrybysri has over 8,000 followers, with much of that growth happening last summer. “Before that, I was just sharing my work because I was scared to associate myself with it, but [last] summer I was like, I’m done hiding, I want them to know the face behind the work so I started posting who I am and connecting with people.”
Donthi’s audience is mostly people in their mid-teens to late-twenties; she tries to connect to them by writing uplifting, authentic pieces about her personal experiences.
“I write a lot about the first-generation experience. So many people are in that same boat and we all have some sort of commonality,” she said. “I currently do a lot of ‘what would I have liked to hear while I was younger.’”
These themes come up in her writing like “Why losing is important,” where Donthi suggests “maybe losing is the meaning of life,” or in her declaration to “be humble, but not in love.” “My mom always tells me that the more you give love, the richer you get … At the same time, I’ve always been taught to be humble with the things I have,” she explains in the Instagram caption of the post.
Donthi often references her family in her work, citing how close they are, especially since they spent so much time together during quarantine. “Ever since I was little, my mom would always buy these quotes and put them around the house,” she said, pointing to a sign behind her that says “be your own kind of beautiful.” “It’s kind of cliche, but she has always appreciated quotes like that and we’ve always connected on how powerful a statement can be.”
“because you’re made of stardust,” a print-on-demand book, has sold about 100 copies, with proceeds from sales in the first six months going to nonprofit organizations that focus on social justice and education, especially geared towards youth, such as The Conscious Kid, The Loveland Foundation, World Central Kitchen and Room to Read.
Adolescence and the process of growing up are important to Donthi. “What does growing up look like? What are the hard things that happen? What are the good things that happen? What should you hold onto?” These questions will be the focus of her next book which she hopes will be twice as long as her debut and, through her writing and the illustrations, show the progression of a girl becoming a woman.