Shawayne Dunstan went home to Jamaica four years ago after an absence of more than a decade and while there, he received some inspirational advice from his grandmother and uncle.
“You’re in a place of opportunity,” Dunstan’s uncle told him. “I can’t necessarily tell you what to do. But, you know, just try your best to do something for you.”
Dunstan, 21, a Spoken Word artist from Mississauga, Ont., and a Restaurant and Hotel Operation Management student at Humber College, took the advice very much to heart.
That year, he was in Grade 11, and he wrote his first book, Guilty by Association. It was only 40 pages, but it jump-started his writing career.
“That’s when I saw the passion,” he said. “I’m, like, wow, okay, cool!”
Dunstan had been introduced to poetry in 2012 in his English class. Three years later he was posting his poems and other writings to an online platform called Wattpad. Through the process, he gained confidence and wanted to publish his work.
And on that trip to Jamaica, his uncle basically told him to go for it.
Just before Christmas 2016, he published his second book, The Undisputed Defect of an Adolescent. And by this year, Dunstan had published seven books, with the material for more collected on his old Wattpad account.
“They could span all the way to 40-something poems, or just be as short as 10,” he said.
One of Shawayne’s personal favourite poems he wrote is called The Death of Shaweezy, which examines how inner thoughts can negatively affect lives. In that work, Dunstan talks about how he comes to terms with his insecurities, and how he’s portrayed in society.
He looks at how social and cultural forces can work against our dreams and ambitions, raising such questions as, “Who do you think you are?” and “What makes you think that you can make these books that will help youth or help you make a name for yourself?”
“I’ve really put a lot into that series, because it’s just, it’s true, it’s like plain-truth talks about society, talks about race, talks about finding hope, finding yourself,” Dunstan said.
And just as his family in Jamaica supported his dreams and willingness to take a chance on himself, Dunstan has the same advice for other aspiring writers.
“Realize your worth,” he said. “Don’t second guess your vision. Don’t underestimate the editing process. It’s a long process, just take your time.
“Have fun with it, be yourself, you will develop your own format of writing and follow that form,” Dunstan said.
And perhaps most important of all, he said, “never compare yourself to someone else, you can be inspired just do your own thing.
“After a while, you will genuinely feel the love of people who rock with you,” he said.