Living Hyphen virtual workshops develop BIPOC storytelling outside mainstream expectations

29 January 2021 / by Sam Dharmasena
Living Hyphen writing workshop pre-pandemic. / Image Courtesy: Kristina Corre

Living Hyphen is a community that explores the experiences of hyphenated Canadians, meaning individuals who call Canada home but with roots elsewhere. They launched in 2018 as a magazine and have quickly grown into a national literary community. CJRU speaks with Living Hyphen founder and writer Justine Abigail Yu about their winter workshops series for amateur and emerging writers of colour.

While Living Hyphen set out to publish diverse stories, Yu says they’ve uncovered even more gaps in the industry as their work progressed. She says a culture of encouragement is missing from the current landscape.

“There are so many of us who are part of these underrepresented communities who actually aren’t ready [to publish]. Because the institutions around us, the influences around us, tell us everyday that we are not worth listening to… that our stories are not enough – we just get sidelined. So I realized how important it is to actually build up that culture first and foremost. To build a culture of storytelling where people feel compelled and confident enough to share their stories,” Yu explains.

She recalls that many of the contributors to the first edition of Living Hyphen were in a position to be published but she connected with an overwhelming number of writers who appreciated their magazine but couldn’t see themselves being published in something similar. Noticing this disconnect, Living Hyphen expanded their mandate to include cultural programming like writing workshops and storytelling nights. They’ve pivoted to a virtual model now but the intention to build up confidence remains the same.

(Living Hyphen magazine. / Courtesy of Living Hyphen)

The winter workshop series comprises two stand-alone workshops and two, four-week courses. For all virtual offerings, there is no writing experience required and participants can expect to receive prompts and an allotted time to write. Then, writers have an opportunity to share their stories with the group and receive feedback if they wish. This process is meant to get writers comfortable with speaking their stories out loud, especially around topics that often go unheard on mainstream platforms.

The stand-alone Migrations and Melancholia workshop available on Feb. 3 or Feb 7, pays homage to the melancholia and mourning felt through migration. The second stand-alone workshop explores the notion of delight on Feb. 10 and Feb 24. This workshop recognizes that many Black, Indigenous, and racialized writers are expected to document their trauma and oppression in mainstream media, without a similar attention towards stories of joy and delight.

For participants seeking longer term learning opportunities, there are two courses that run for four-weeks each. Distances Within and Between Us is a course running throughout March that explores themes of solidarity and the nuances among communities of colour. This workshop was born out of the latest summer of protest and calls for justice by the Black Lives Matter movement. The Living Between Cultures course is offered on multiple dates in partnership with Atlas Obscura and explores various concepts that are tied to straddling multiple identities.

“When we have these sessions we actually come out of it realizing how much value we have to offer, and how important it is to share all these stories. And how much complexity, nuance and difference there are and how important it is to acknowledge all of that,” she explains.

Yu adds that their team has many more plans and dreams for the Living Hyphen community. In order to make them a reality, they have launched a Patreon account. Living Hyphen is leveraging the platform to meet their operating costs because their work is primarily family funded, with Yu’s mother working as their publisher. Receiving additional funding through a community-focused initiative like Patreon ensures that they can maintain artistic independence and remain financially accessible. In exchange for the support, there are a number of tiers that offer exclusive blog posts, writing prompts, and more.

To hear more about Living Hyphen’s workshop series, listen to the interview below: