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Lang Leav Wears This Necklace To All Of Her Book Tours—Here’s The Touching Story Why

Walking through the streets of Makati on a sunny Friday morning, I was in a bit of a hurry. I was off to an interview with best-selling poet Lang Leav, and as I entered the Writers Bar, I scanned the bibliotheque-themed café for her face. And there she was, sitting by the window, a warm, welcoming smile, full fringes framing her delicate face. She looked exactly like her photos on Instagram. It’s one of several platforms where she shares her writing, and her writing has a following that’s hundreds of thousands strong. “Hello!” she greeted, standing up to meet me. We begin the interview, but something else catches my attention. A string of pearls around her neck. 

Later, I would find out that the necklace holds some meaning to her. That the shiny, pink pearls were a link to her past—to who she was, ten years ago.

 

Photo: @langleav

 

A symbol of her persistence and her mother’s love 

Before self-publishing her first book—Love & Misadventure—in 2013, the poet and novelist was a struggling fashion designer and contemporary artist.

“I was a starving artist, scrambling to put a show together,” shared Lang on Twitter.

When her now-partner Michael Faudet bought a painting from her ten years ago, an unmistakable connection was made—they both knew it would be a mistake not to pursue it. Lang eventually made the huge leap of leaving her home in Sydney, crossing the Tasman Sea to be with Michael in Auckland. 

It could have been a happily ever after right then and there but it wasn’t. While her relationship blossomed, Lang felt that her career had stalled. “I felt like I took the wrong turn somewhere along the way. And I had wasted all my talent and potential… Michael was wonderfully supportive, but in the end, no one can save you but yourself.”

But one day, her mother gave her a beautiful reminder of persistence—in the form of shiny, pink pearls. “She could ill afford it, but they reminded her of the color of my cheeks,” Lang continued on Twitter. “I told her I could’ve really used the cash instead. She laughed and suggested I sell them.”

“I cried when I held the string of pearls for the first time. I was mesmerised by their soft pink lustre, how they glowed as though lit from inside by a mysterious light.” The pearls were beautiful—but deep inside, Lang knew they were an extravagance. “It was hard to justify keeping them,” the artist shared. “Not when I needed new brushes and paint, [or] a new bra, because I was clipping the strap of mine with a safety pin.” In that moment, the only thing Lang wanted was to buy groceries without worrying that her card would be declined at the checkout. 

The pearls were an extravagance—but she kept them anyway. “In the end, Michael convinced me to keep them. He said I should take those pearls and bet on myself. And so, I did.”

Little did she know that one day, her name would ring bells worldwide. Lang wore the necklace on her first tour, and on every single one since. “They are more than a string of pearls. They are a symbol of what I almost gave up. I almost gave up on myself,” she reflected.

“To me those pearls are so intrinsically linked to my mother, to the love and hope she had for me. All the dreams she had for herself that she could only ever see through me. That was something I carried for the both of us... With every passing year, the pearls grow infinitely more precious. I didn’t know when I first held the string of pearls in my hands, how close I was to my dream. That all I had to do was hold on for a little while longer. To this day, I’m always thankful I did.”

 

A reminder of her roots

Aside from love and hope, the pearls also remind Lang of where she came from—a family of refugees who survived war and disaster. “There is a history there, that goes back as far as time. A lineage that was lost to war. A love that can only exist between mother and child.” Lang’s mother was pregnant with her in wartime. Soon after her family fled the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, the future novelist and poet was born in a Thai refugee camp. Who knew that a future artist—a creator of beauty—could be born in a place with so little hope?

Since she came from a refugee background, Lang considers herself lucky to be able to migrate to Australia and have an education. “Poetry was something taught in school, and I fell in love with it. And I think when you love something, you just want to create your own.” 

 

Love Looks Pretty On You

It was only fitting that the author continues to wear her pearls as she promotes her eighth book Love Looks Pretty on You (2019), named after her favorite line from her collection of poems. 

In contrast with the melancholic tone of her previously published works, the author shares that Love Looks Pretty on You has a more uplifting vibe. After all, it was inspired by the previous ten years of her life. “There’s a lot of female- and self-empowerment here,” quipped the author, who shared that the past decade taught her to become self-reliant. “Love Looks Pretty On You has a [feeling of] happiness. Of contentment.” 

Lang Leav holding her newest book, Love Looks Pretty on You (2019). | Photo by Spotlight Creatives

 

At Last by Lang Leav, Love Looks Pretty on You (2019). Photo from @langleav

 

The author also admits that this is her most personal book yet. “As a writer, I suppose there’s always the [challenge] of finding the separation between yourself and your work. I think a lot of writers find themselves in that same struggle, and it’s something that I feel I’ve become much better at over the years—being able to share myself and at the same time, maintaining my privacy.”

Lang would be one to know. After all, she’s managed to balance two completely different lives. Some days, she jet-sets the world to sign books and meet fans. And on most days, she lives with her partner on a quiet shore in New Zealand.

 

More than just ‘Instapoetry’

“How do you feel with people calling you an instapoet?” I asked her in the middle of the interview. Lang Leav smiled. It’s probably a question she’s gotten used to. After all, social media platforms helped her become the Internet sensation she is today. As of writing, she has 500K followers on Instagram alone.

“I think it’s a bit silly that a social media platform dictates a genre of writing,” she quipped. “I’m a poet. I’m a novelist. I don’t really like to pigeonhole myself. I think if you’re a good writer, you can write in any medium. You can write a good essay. You can write a good novel. You can write a good article, as a journalist. There’s no boundary for a good writer.” 

“It’s always been tough getting into publishing—and writing, in general,” added the author. “I think social media does help to get the word out, [but] I feel like the playing ground hasn’t gotten easier at all. I think that if something is popular, it will be popular, regardless of social media.”

I Know Love by Lang Leav, Love Looks Pretty on You (2019). Photo from @langleav

 

Even before the rise of digital platforms, Lang had already been writing poetry. To her, it was second nature. “It’s always been something I’ve been compelled to do. It’s something that’s never changed—I’m just doing it on a much bigger scale!” she shared. “From the moment I learned to write my name, I’ve been writing.” 

 

Literature is for everyone

The poet’s writing style is simple—an easy read. This is exactly why she is both loved and criticized by many. Personally, I may not be a fan of all of Leav’s works, but one cannot deny her influence on the writing world. Through her accessible pieces, she’s made the younger generation interested in poetry again. She also pioneered a new movement, encouraging poets to share their writing on social media platforms. She’s married digital and print, two worlds we once thought were too far from each other.

“Language belongs to everyone. Not to a small entitled few,” tweeted Lang in response to elitist “style over substance” critics. Lang’s writing can be understood by everyone, which is why it is well-loved worldwide. People young and old, rich and poor, can appreciate—and even see themselves and their stories through—her raw, heartfelt works. Lang's pieces help readers get in touch with their emotions, too.

“The beautiful thing about literature is you’re not alone. Someone is there. And someone understands,” shared the poet. “It’s not so much as just words, but it’s someone else’s thoughts on paper. When you’re talking to your friend, you share the same thoughts and feelings, and I think poetry is the same.”

 

Literature bridges worlds 

After the interview ended, I remembered that my sister, a mother of two who recently migrated to Italy, was Lang’s biggest fan. I headed to the nearest National Book Store to grab a copy, but unsurprisingly, the bestseller was already out of stock. But there was another branch around the corner, so I rushed to get my hands on the teal-and-pink book. 

I ran back to the Writers Bar, where I met Lang once again. I took the opportunity to tell her how her writing helped deepen my relationship with my sibling. Last year, I brought a copy of Lang’s book Sea of Strangers (2018) to Europe. On its flap, I wrote, “To my sister, across seas, but never strangers.” In a way, Lang has been part of our sisterhood. I even showed the poet a photo of my sister holding the book. Lang lit up, “Oh, I remember her! I reposted her photo on my Instagram.” I was surprised that she remembered.

She signed the book, and off I went. As I looked back, Lang was still seated there—waving goodbye.

 

 

My editor once told me: “Creativity is for everyone. It’s a human compulsion—to create.” The act of creation is for everybody, making something out of nothing is a gift of the universe. Whether it’s sent out into the world to be appreciated or kept hidden in forgotten notebooks, or whether any of it is validated, is really of no consequence. 

Yes, Lang’s pieces are uncomplicated—and that’s where its beauty lies. What’s important is how Lang has encouraged more people to read, and more importantly, to write. And write. And write....

 

Artwork by Butchie Peña