Interview with Jennilee Austria-Bonifacio4 min read

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Jennilee Austria-Bonifacio

Jennilee Austria-Bonifacio is a Filipina-Canadian author, community worker, speaker, tour guide in Toronto’s Little Manila, and the founder of “Filipino Talks”– an initiative that builds bridges between Canadian educators and Filipino families.

Jennilee has attended the Humber Writing Workshop at the IFOA and Creative Writing by Correspondence at the Humber School for Writers, and the Emerging Writers Intensive: First Chapter Novel program at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity.

Her debut novel, Reuniting with Strangers (Douglas & McIntyre), was longlisted for Canada Reads 2024, named one of CBC’s Best Books of 2023, and was a finalist for the Jim Wong-Chu Emerging Writers Award. Her work has been published in Geist, Magdaragat: An Anthology of Filipino-Canadian Writing (Cormorant Books), Changing the Face of Canadian Literature (Guernica Editions), TAYO Literary Magazine, The Philippine Reporter, and more. Born and raised in Sarnia, Ontario, she is now based in Toronto.


You have extensive experience in community work, including your position as a settlement worker and your founding of Filipino Talks. How have these experiences and relationships shaped your writing? 

At first, writing was a way to process everything that I’d been witnessing as a settlement worker and school board consultant who was working closely with Filipino newcomers.

Since frontline work can be emotionally heavy, on nights when I’d lie awake, worrying about families as they struggled after so many years apart, I’d write about what was on my mind as a form of self-care.

Not only did this enable to me to eventually fall asleep, but it also helped me see the many facets of family reunification: not only as women learning to live with their spouses and children again, but the bigger picture— the parents left back home who needed care; the guardians who were ready to have a custody battle over the children they’ve raised; the Canadian-born generation who felt a deep animosity towards their newly-arrived relatives, the non-binary children who find chosen family, and so much more.

That’s why the book’s dedication is “For the 1200+ Filipino Talks students whose stories kept me awake at night” — this book is truly for them.

 Reuniting with Strangers is your debut novel, while your stories have appeared in the anthologies Magdaragat: An Anthology of Filipino-Canadian Writing and Changing the Face of Canadian Literature. Do you have any writings in the works? What kinds of projects do you hope to publish in the future? 

In Reuniting with Strangers, it was really important for me to feature the voices of elders and youth, so for my next three projects, I’m planning on continuing this with coming-of-age stories centred on themes of meaningful allyship, body positivity, influencer culture, and cross-generational connections.

I’m so excited that I’ll be spending some time in the Philippines to do some research on the ground. Bring on the historical fiction and the intertwining timelines to showcase the universality of growing up!

Which writer inspires you the most, and why?

The first time I ever read an Asian-Canadian novel was in grad school, when my class was assigned The Jade Peony by Wayson Choy.

Not only was I transported to Vancouver’s Chinatown in the 1930s and 40s, but while reading Wayson’s powerful words, I saw that there was a space for marginalized voices in Canadian literature.

Eight years later, when I became Wayson’s writing assistant during a course at the Humber School for Writers, I learned about transitioning from a reader to a writer.

We often hear authors say, “Write the story you want to tell.” But when the author comes from a community like yours and they say, “Write the story you want to tell,” that message becomes so much more powerful— someone who looks like you is giving you the green light! What a life-changing moment.

I’m so fortunate that I met Wayson Choy during the early part of my writing journey; I was so touched by his generosity of spirit. Wayson is missed, but his belief in me is something that I will never forget.


Jennilee Austria-Bonifacio will be featured at LiterASIAN Festival 2024.  Please check out the lineup of the festival at

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