We had the good fortune of connecting with Juleus Ghunta and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Juleus, what inspires you?
I had a difficult childhood. When I finally learned to read at age twelve, I searched local libraries for stories that I could identify with, stories with protagonists who had encountered and overcome similar adversities. I failed to find such stories, so I vowed to write my own. I am inspired by the need to fill this void, particularly in Caribbean children’s literature. Many children’s writers do not write books that explore difficult issues, despite the severe adversities our children endure. We sometimes pretend these realities do not exist, ignoring children’s complex experiences and capacity to develop resilience. Authors do children a disservice when we shy away from exploring troubling themes. I hope my work will encourage others to engage in these conversations and begin journeys toward healing.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I started writing seriously about six years ago. First and foremost, I write to and for my child self/inner child; for the little boy in me who struggled with reading and who at times felt lonely and unloved. I write to give him access to the books he wished he had, books about adversity and resilience, trauma and triumph. Writing helps me reimagine his experiences and create greater possibilities for my adult life. My books are also for others, of course, particularly children who need to be reminded of the light in their struggle and the possibility of even brighter light at the end of it.
Much of my work explores the links between toxic stress and academic underachievement. My new book Rohan Bullkin and the Shadows is about a young boy who struggles in school because of adversities he faces in his daily life. He befriends a book that helps him understand and manage his Shadows ( manifestations of his trauma and toxic stress). Even though the book takes on challenging topics, it is full of magic and hope that will engage and inspire readers. Rohan’s journey is a guide for children experiencing adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and toxic stress and for others who want to understand how to offer them support.
The book has received significant praise from distinguished medical doctors, psychologists, writers, educators and key figures in the global positive and adverse childhood experiences (PACEs) movement. Children’s rights advocate Michael Abrahams, MD, said it “should be required reading in all schools.” Author MJ Fievre remarked that “Rohan’s story is one of triumph over adversity.” Trauma therapist Veronique Mead, MD, called the book “a vital new resource for professionals and others,” and literary critic Annie Paul said Rohan is “an imaginative intervention into the universal quest for literacy, knowledge, and healing.”
Are you working on any new projects?
In Rohan Bullkin and the Shadows, the protagonist creates and uses a special Notebook of Words and Ideas in which he records much of what he learns. In August 2022, I will publish a Notebook of Words and Ideas for readers to use as a unique reading companion to any book. Illustrated by Rachel Moss, it has beautiful original art and sketches, inspiring quotes by great writers and thinkers such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Alain de Botton and Ta-Nehisi Coates, and space for children to add their notes and ideas. I am also working on two new picture books and a collection of poems.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, and my mentor Mike, who gave me her books. I needed a bit of magic to survive my childhood years. Her stories inspired me to create an imaginary world in which I felt relief from the challenges and trials in my life. As a fourteen-year-old, I was already living on my own and needed to be in a parallel universe where I felt safe and loved. I met Mike during my fifth year at primary school, in 1999, after he left America to start anew in Pell River, my hometown in rural Jamaica. A Vietnam veteran, Mike had PTSD and had done significant research on trauma recovery therapies. I was drawn to him because of this but more so because he treated me kindly and encouraged me to read. When I became crippled by familial conflicts, his counsel and generosity enabled me to push on. I spent several years trying to make sense of his patience and generosity. With Mike’s help, I began to challenge the narratives of failure and hopelessness that pervaded Pell River. I struggled to envision the life I have now. No one from my family had made it out. Without Mike, I would not have made it out.
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Deron Douglas, Capture876 Media