She has shared her blend of poetry and music internationally at festivals and events, and as Halifax's third Poet Laureate she organized Canada’s first national gathering of Canadian Poets Laureate in 2010. A descendant of Black Loyalists, Jamaican Maroons, and Black Refugees who came to Canada during the 18th and 19th centuries, Shauntay's love of language stretches back to her storytelling roots in Nova Scotia's historic Black communities. She is an award-winning author who has published in several literary genres, and as one of Canada's leading practitioners of spoken word performance, she was awarded a Poet of Honour prize by Spoken Word Canada in 2010. Shauntay has a deep-rooted passion for creatively exploring the world, and encouraging others to embrace their creative selves. She describes her creative journey as a process of becoming, always seeking new ways to challenge herself and develop her voice.
What was your initial response to being featured on the legacy poster?
Robert Small contacted me by email for the feature and as for my initial response, I can't quite recall our conversation but I am familiar with some of the other artist’s that are featured on the poster.
At what moment were you able to call yourself a writer?
It started as a hobby…I started as a spoken word poet and the shift just happened.
I really was in the right place at the right time. I was at a spoken word event and a publisher loved my performance and told me that I should do a children’s book. It opened me up to thinking about where my writing could go and I started thinking seriously about being an author and calling myself a writer…
People would ask me, “are you a writer?”
I would say, “I write, but I’m not a writer…”
I would tell them that I’m a journalist...an arts administrator… and writing is just something I love to do. If you find out that you must write then build your life around it.
Are there any central sources of inspiration for your work?
Growing up in Nova Scotia and my African roots in the province. My community back home has been a huge influence; it’s where I first learned about storytelling and it was fostered in my family. I think observation is very important to writing. I don’t just write about myself, it is my experience and also the experience of African Nova Scotians.
How would you describe your creative process?
There isn’t a formula but the writing doesn’t happen in front of the computer. Creation comes from walking, meditating. There are pieces that I’ve never needed to write down because they’re in my memory. I play my drum and the words come with the rhythm. That’s where the poem lives and I don’t have to write it down. What is important is being open to different ways of being creative. Walking, being a part of nature, and listening is very important.
Also treating it as a discipline, you have to write every day. I schedule my writing time. If it’s in your calendar then you can’t have an excuse, it’s your appointment to do it. I try to keep my mornings for creative work including yoga and meditation also stimulates creativity.
You were Halifax’s third Poet Laureate how did that experience affect your life?
It was a great opportunity to promote poetry in the city: to create opportunities for artists, partnerships with local jazz festivals, and organize the first national gathering of Canadian Poet Laureates in 2010. I was able to work with lots of Canadian children, youth and community groups. The opportunity to promote the arts, and artists, is a gift. It’s great to do something I genuinely enjoy that is also my work. I really think it’s worth fighting for, to live and work your passion.
Is there any advice you would give to aspiring writers?
Trust your voice.
Poetry is just language, it's talking. We all have impulses; we all have experiences around us. We just have to overcome that fear to express that art. It’s not about finding your voice, it’s about trusting your voice and the words come, the poem comes.