Author and PEI Writers’ Guild president Mo Duffy Cobb holds a mug of coffee in her Charlottetown kitchen, reflecting on the recent strategic planning retreat and the path to make the organization more accessible, after 30+ years serving Island writers. “We want the Writers’ Guild to be accessible to everyone, regardless if they’re published or not—we want to include diverse voices; we want to be inclusive,” Mo says.
From providing bursaries to reinforce the message “people shouldn’t feel like you need money to write,” to creating a welcome space for youth and emerging writers, Mo says, “We want to continue with the original intentions but add some more options… We want the Writers’ Guild to have a broader wingspan, to create more experiences.”
Mo says, “Even as a writer from a very small island, I’ve had a lot of good experiences through the Writers’ Guild.” She continues, “The Writers’ Guild has been a really good opportunity for networking with publishers and writers, being around that inspiration…
“Being a writer used to be ‘not a real thing,’” Mo remarks. It was hard to be an aspiring writer “with a crushing
desire to move forward.” A turning point for Mo was attending SeaWords, a creative writing conference hosted twice by the L.M. Montgomery Institute at UPEI.
SeaWords was “one of the things that really brought me into the world of writing,” Mo says. “I wasn’t sure about authors or publishers—even though I had a manuscript at that point.” Mo credits the conference—and following up in networks—with the opportunity to develop her memoir and to pursue her MFA in creative writing.
It also helped prepare her to seek publication of her book, Unpacked: From PEI to Palawan, a memoir of her family’s travels in the wake of the unimaginable loss of their daughter, Tya, to stillbirth. “It’s a different world in publishing than when it [the Writers’ Guild] was established,” Mo reflects. “Authors can do so much on your own…”—but, she adds, “you have to take unconventional risks.”
Placing her manuscript was complex, “because it was a memoir, but a travel memoir, that didn’t take place in Atlantic Canada—plus it was a grief memoir, and, unh, who wants to read that.” Mo did a “Pitch the Publisher” event, “at a microphone, in a room full of publishers and editors and the public… There’s such a human element—people in the room who have access and agency.” It paid off: Lesley Choyce of Pottersfield Press, selected the book for publication.
The SeaWords conference that put Mo on an author’s path also inspired Mo and the Writers’ Guild to initiate a literary festival, Wild Threads, featuring workshops and readings by some of Canada’s foremost writers and publishers. Mo is excited about the second season for Wild Threads. “Wild Threads has a shot at becoming a first-class literary festival, that has really exciting potential to give PEI writers a real shot.”
Mo says, “We want PEI to be a place with really well-developed cultural experiences. We’re not small fries.”
Mo reflects, “Most people don’t have time or capacity to focus on writing. Writing has to fit into a platform of things that go hand in hand with writing.” For Mo, a mom of three growing children, the balance is with teaching, but, she says, “between teaching and writing parts of my life, besides family business… it’s a balancing act.”
In her writing life, Mo has been working with Lori Mayne on “a ‘company-ography’” of her father Regis Duffy’s bioscience business. Mo says, “I’m not at sea writing a poetry book or something. I am on contract; I have firm deadlines. The structure has helped me move forward with the book in a good way.” The science-heavy non-fiction is also inspiring her to consider future projects in a different style. “I feel like I want to write something fluid,” she says.
Mo wants the Writers’ Guild to flourish to support emerging and established writers. Mo admits, “I’m a demanding leader!” She reflects, “I have the electric energy that we can do anything. I have a big-thinking vision, because I am a dreamer—there’s no question.”