Photo Credit: Justine – Living Hyphen

For the past 10-years Culture Days has worked in partnership with the Toronto Public Library to showcase the many forms of arts and culture programming found across the city.

This year we will be featuring five artistic programs as part of Culture Days @ Toronto Public Library. We had the chance to learn a little bit more about one of our featured artists, Justine Abigail Yu, founder and editor-in-chief of Living Hyphen – a magazine and community that explores the experiences of people living in between cultures as hyphenated Canadians.

The hyphen – a simple piece of punctuation used to express the relationship between two words, ideas, or even identities. In a country that is home to over 250 ethnic groups, this symbol represents more than just a grammatical marker. A hyphen reflects the bridge to navigating one’s cultural identity as more than just the land that they have come from or have landed on. 

Justine Yu, one of our featured artists for Culture Days @ Toronto Public Library, is a proud Filipina-Canadian. She was born in Manila, Philippines and at the age of four moved to Toronto, Canada.

“I’ve always felt that my life has been a constant tug of war, an ongoing push and pull of these two places, two cultures, two identities. In short, it has been a life of living in between, of living in the hyphen.”

As a writer, she began to document her experiences navigating her cultural identity along with many accounts from other hyphenated individuals across the country.

“The seed of this idea that is now Living Hyphen was born back in the fall of 2015 at Toronto’s Feminist Art Conference when I attended a powerhouse panel about (the lack of) diversity in Canadian literature. The panel was stacked with writers of colour, all “hyphenated” themselves, with tons of experience to share about the publishing industry. I listened to these panelists talk about the difficulties they faced in getting their work published, simply because their stories did not conform to the “Canadian narrative.”

After that panel, I spent the next few weeks (years, really — I still am) ravenous for art and literature that complicated that “Canadian narrative,” and that better represented my life experiences.”

In 2018, Living Hyphen announced its inaugural issue Entrances and Exits which featured stories, poetry, and photography from over 30 hyphenated Canadians.  Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour who had previously been told that their stories and lived experiences “didn’t matter, or weren’t Canadian enough,” were given the opportunity to have their stories heard.

“Representation matters, yes. We need to see ourselves in the media that we consume to even be able to imagine ourselves in experiences. We need to see ourselves in the media that we consume to aspire for opportunities greater than what may be available in our immediate world. But more than representation, we need programming, resources, and mentorship to turn that imagining into action and into reality.”

Living Hyphen has expanded beyond print publication, into creating programming that allows hyphenated Canadians to feel confident sharing their stories. They now facilitate writing workshops and storytelling nights across Toronto to encourage courageous and tender storytelling within communities.

Since the pandemic, Living Hyphen has pivoted to hosting exclusively virtual writing workshops. They have hosted over 15 of these workshops in the last 3 months. 

The switch to digital has allowed Living Hyphen’s cultural programming to become more accessible, especially in reaching communities outside of Toronto. 

“We’ve now had participants join us from all across the country and from urban and rural settings alike. Access to these kinds of programs isn’t always available outside of large urban hubs, so it’s been a gamechanger to be able to reach out to and write with typically marginalized communities in a much deeper way.”

As part of Culture Days @ the Library, Justine has extended the invitation for participants to join Living Hyphen for one of their virtual writing workshops. Until then, here are some step to start writing at home:

1. Start with creating a few lists. Give yourself a minute to write a list of:

  • Your most memorable goodbyes.
  • Places you’ve called home. This could include exact addresses of physical houses, cities or towns, schools, or other safe and comforting spaces you’ve found yourself in.
  • Words in your native tongue or your parents’ native tongue that you love, that you remember, that you don’t know the meaning of.


2. Highlight a few of the memories, places, or words that you’ve jotted down that are the most vivid and visceral for you. You’ll use these as inspiration for your writing.


3. Take the next 7 minutes to write a story with the following prompt: 


“We were all just trying to…”

You can use this line as the first line of your story, the last line, or somewhere in the middle! Feel free to use as many of those memories, places, or words you made in your list to guide your writing.


4. Take the next 7 minutes to write a story with the following prompt:


“I’ve never felt that way before or since…”


And that’s it! You’ve just written two stories!

Future Programming:

Join Justine on October 7th, 2020 from 7 – 8:15 pm for a writing workshop specifically for Indigenous, Black, and People of Colour (IBPOC) storytellers of all ages, and writing levels. Click here to register and learn more. 

About the Artist:

Justine Abigail Yu is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Living Hyphen, an intimate journal that explores what it means to live in between cultures as part of a diaspora.


She is an award-winning writing workshop facilitator whose work with Living Hyphen has been featured on national and local media outlets including CTV National News, CBC Metro Morning, Radio-Canada International, CBC Ontario Morning, and CityTV’s Breakfast Television. She is also a freelance writer whose work has been featured in publications such as Intermission Magazine, Metro News Canada, African Business Journal, and Makeshift Magazine. 

Images: courtesy of Living Hyphen

This program is supported by the Ontario Arts Council