Shauntay Grant is a Canadian author, poet, playwright and professor at Dalhousie University.
Her work is “mainly rooted in local stories and local histories,” Grant says in an email to the Dalhousie Gazette. All of her current and published projects are “inspired by local stories.” This includes Africville, The City Speaks In Drums and Up Home, which are all set in communities around the Halifax Regional Municipality. The Bridge is set in a fictional Black Nova Scotian community, and “rooted in local Black vernacular language, culture, and customs,” she says.
“I remember being read to a lot as a child,” Grant says, recalling her first memories about getting acquainted with language. “After bedtime books with my mom, my dad and I would rap together. So, from a young age I knew that words held rhythm and music. That stories weren’t just found in books, but in spoken word and songs.”
The Bridge is the latest of Grant’s plays to have been produced on stage. Set in a rural Black Nova Scotian community, the play explores the complex relationship between two brothers who have become strangers to each other over the years. Secrets are revealed as the play goes on, and the audience becomes very aware that things are much more complicated than assumed in the beginning.
Grant says that her inspirations for this story was the The Song of Solomon from the King James Version of the Bible and an old gospel-blues cover of Edward James’ John the Revelator.
“The opening verse of John The Revelator paints an image of Adam in the Garden of Eden refusing to answer a call from God out of shame around his actions,” Grant says. “I was struck by this story of how one’s actions and choices create deep, impassable gorges in relationships. It got me thinking more about how people become comfortable with these divisions or try to mend them by creating bridges.”
She was especially inspired by the juxtaposition in Edward James’ character, who had at different points at his life both rejected and embraced secular music.
“These two sides of him—the guitar-playing blues man and the Baptist preacher—informed the two main characters in The Bridge who are brothers in conflict with one another,” Grant says.
She also has other playwriting projects, she reports the latest one being about the 2018 removal of the controversial statue of Edward Cornwallis in downtown Halifax.
Challenges and growth
While seeing projects come to life is very exciting, Grant says that her favourite part of the creative process is the beginning of a project, or, “When the work is still trying to figure itself out and every idea has weight.”
Grant admits she likes the uncertainty, “when the story isn’t completely set and there are multiple story-roads to take.”
“It’s perhaps the most challenging part as well,” she says. “Trying to figure the way that the story will go.” For her, it’s also the most thrilling part.
Another stimulating side of Grant’s creative process is the way she grows with her work. She says she can’t pick a single project that didn’t affect her as person. She feels like every project has to challenge her to hold her interest.
As much as her work is personal to her, Grant says there is still beauty in “how a work can be interpreted in so many different ways depending on the audience.”
“If there are specific messages or moments that I want to communicate through my art, I just try to be as clear as possible,” she says. “And that usually involves writing and rewriting, and taking the work through various stages of development. It’s often a long and gruelling process, but one that I enjoy very much.”
She also expresses her excitement about the coincidental nature of this revision, she was especially excited about finding her old poems and seeing commonalities between them.
“Realizing that they may have a relationship to one another. That they could exist together as a whole,” she says.