Christi Steyn Is a Poet and Model Who Shot to Fame Reciting Poems on TikTok – inside Her Life
In today’s world, what do you do when you’re passionate about poetry and have a melodious voice? Christi Steyn recites poems on social media, and her almost 1 million followers love it.
Originally from South Africa, Christi Steyn is a model and poet who moved to New York in 2019 to study acting for film. During the pandemic, she downloaded TikTok and performed some of the Shakespearean Sonnets. People were thrilled.
According to Steyn, she noticed that poetry wasn’t that popular on TikTok, so she considered it an excellent chance for her to showcase her passion.
Cut to present day, and she has almost 790,000 followers on TikTok and nearly 170,000 on Instagram. During this exclusive interview with AmoMama, Steyn shared some details of her modeling career, her views on poetry, and her thoughts on fellow poet Amanda Gorman.
One shouldn’t try to write a poem that is “poetic” but rather something that is honest.
AmoMama (AM): You’re originally from South Africa but live in New York, right? Was it hard to get used to the States?
I moved to New York at the beginning of 2019 to study acting for film. To be completely honest, I felt electric after my first taxi ride, and conversation came easy with New Yorkers (they’re a lot nicer than you think).
I adore all the amazing friends that I have made, and my boyfriend has been my guardian angel (especially during the pandemic).
(AM): Were you already working as a model before moving to New York? How did your modeling career begin?
I was signed in South Africa with PULSE Models, and I loved doing a lot of collaborations with brands. Content creation was something I also thoroughly enjoyed.
(AM): You’re not only a model but also a poet. How long have you been writing poems? Do you also write short stories/novels?
I’ve always been moved by words. I view it as an imaginary treasure hunt, each sentence revealing a puzzle piece to life and all its secrets.
While studying Theater and Cabaret in South Africa, I wrote my own one-woman shows where I would include poetry and music in my scripts. I see a lot of my poems as “micro stories,” with a beginning, middle, and an end (not necessarily in that order).
I have been writing since I can remember, whether journaling in a glitter notebook on my travels or crafting bizarre fairy tales in the notes on my phone.
A novel would be a dream, but for the moment, it looms in the distance, as an enchanting mountain in the far-away future.
(AM): What’s the thing you like the most about poetry?
There is warmth in understanding. In a time where everyone is showcasing their highlight reels on social media, one can compare their inner failures to the vapid flaunting of others.
Poetry makes me feel less alone; it brings me hope when I feel there is none. I want to read something raw and truthful. One shouldn’t try to write a poem that is “poetic” but rather something that is honest.
When you strive for that Magnum opus each time that you write, it will most likely come across as being pretentious.
(AM): How important is poetry in today’s culture?
It is a form of self-expression. When describing experiences, we learn more about ourselves and our connection to other people.
Poetry can be used as a tool to cleanse the mind from psychological afflictions. It can be used as a form of meditation; the same way journaling can cleanse the mind or give us more perspective.
When you do not know what to write, they say that you should write what you cannot bear to say out loud. It offers you a safe space to dwell on your thoughts and your feelings.
Not all poems have to be shared, but by writing them down, you can discover truths about yourself. Reading and writing, and analyzing can lead to healing. Art is meant to be felt by others.
The community and followers that I have are absolutely incredible.
(AM): On social media, including YouTube, you frequently upload videos reciting poems. How did you come up with that idea, and when did you realize that people liked it?
Like any sane person in quarantine, I downloaded TikTok and was inspired by the creativity and talent on the app. I realized that people only resonate with the creators who create content they're truly passionate about.
I decided to perform some of my monologues and the Shakespearean Sonnets that I have memorized over the past few years studying Theater. The result was quite surprising, and I received a large amount of views and followers.
It appeared as if poetry was not popular on the app, and I saw it as an opportunity to showcase my passion. People appreciated my material and started sending suggestions and messages of other poems and scripts.
It grew from there, and I started writing and reading my own poetry too. Some of the poems have blown up and gone viral, I am still a little shocked by all the growth, but the community and followers that I have are absolutely incredible.
(AM): A big thing that happened last year was that Unilad used your voice in one of their videos. How cool is that? Did they contact you beforehand?
I was overjoyed to see the positive effects of the “brown eyes” poem, written by Nadia McGhee. A lot of people reached out to say that it helped them see themselves through kinder eyes.
Buzzfeed was first to reach out, and I did a tiny happy dance! Unilad did not reach out beforehand, but they did tag me, so I was absolutely thrilled! The amount of positive messages and hopeful stories warms my heart.
[Amanda Gorman] encourages people to be the change that they wish to see in the world.
(AM): You also recommend people books and poems, and although you have written your own poems, you haven’t published a book yet. Is that something you’re interested in? Maybe putting together your best poems and releasing an anthology?
Funny that you ask that… I am in the works of signing a contract today. The whole process feels unreal, and I cannot wait to share my work with everyone.
(AM): Could you tell us a little bit about your creative process? For example, you wrote “Big Sister Baby” for your niece, Mika, but what about the rest?
Big Sister Baby came very quickly. Adorable Mika popped out on Christmas day at 4 am, and I was the only one who was awake to receive the messages from my sister. I was there in spirit and knew I had to write something for our newest family member back in South Africa.
The dream is to wait for inspiration to come, but if that were the case, I simply would not write. You have to create time and force yourself to write a poem each day.
I found that once I start writing, the words flow, and I end up creating a lot more than I thought I would. There is no “perfect” place to write; the key is to carry a notebook and ink pen wherever you go.
The notes on my phone are also an endless slate of prompts, metaphors, and experiences.
I do enjoy creating a calm and safe space: lighting a candle, burning some incense in a little ceramic castle, classical music, the biggest cup of Rooibos tea or coffee ever known to man, and a wink in the mirror.
(AM): Speaking of poems, you collaborated with Benefit Cosmetics in December last year and read “Advice for Girls” by Spencer McFarland, and it has a very empowering message for women. What do you think about that?
It was not a collaboration, rather a repost. Nonetheless, it was fantastic! Seeing a big brand like that sharing a powerful message that I voiced is a humble experience, and it brought confidence to women all around the world.
(AM): I’m sure you know that poet and activist Amanda Gorman delivered her poem “The Hill We Climb” at President Joe Biden’s inauguration. What did you think about it? Do you believe that Gorman is making people turn their heads toward young poets like yourself?
I was in awe to see such talent and elegance on that stage during the inauguration. With tears in my eyes, I saw the ultimate dream come true, and the fact that she also performed at the Superbowl (the part that I was most interested in) makes her a true icon.
She is using her craft to amplify our voices, and she encourages people to be the change that they wish to see in the world.
(AM): What are you currently working on? Do you have anything prepared for your fans and followers?
There are so many platforms that I want to dive into. I have been asked to download my audio files on Spotify, and that can lead to the start of a podcast.
I love performing poetry, but my next step is writing more of my own. There is a book in the works, and if all goes well, I will publish it in a few months. An online store is also on the horizon, with some products that I believe my audience will enjoy.
Thank you, Christi, for taking the time to talk to us! We wish you the best and are looking forward to listening to your beautiful voice reciting more and more poems. Way to go!