Transformational Travel: My Journey with Cargo Literary

Mo Duffy Cobb, Founder and Editor of Cargo Literary

I have always felt most alive in the whoosh of transit. Many of my stories were first born in travel, the chaotic bursts of energy amidst the gentle contours of stillness. Travel gave me the opportunity for reflection and renewal, so I was attracted to the MFA in nonfiction at Vermont College of Fine Arts, where I could attend two-week residencies then complete the semester’s work from my home in Prince Edward Island. My class grew very close over the five semesters, and I worried I wouldn’t get to connect regularly enough with my writing tribe again. Then I had this wild idea that I would put together a small journal and publish other grads, who were slashing their way through piles of rejections as I was.

It was at VCFA that I found a mentor in Douglas Glover, who edited and put together Numero Cinq, the online literary magazine for writers. I had a good working knowledge of WordPress from my years of blogging to twelve loyal followers and had a keen instinct to learn more about the world of digital publication. When I asked Doug if I should write a business plan first, he guffawed, and assured me I would be fine. “They come for the articles, but they stay for the editor,” he said, with a strange twinkle in his eye. “You’ll see.”

When I left Vermont that final semester, I started to work on Cargo Lit right away, still drunk on Kentucky bourbon and inspiration. I’d had a moderate amount of success publishing small travel articles, and the pen seemed to draft the most during these atmospheric shifts of location. Eventually my own manuscript was published, which followed my young family and as we travelled through Southeast Asia after the excruciating loss of our second daughter, stillborn. I found relief writing about the weight of this grief, and so felt compelled to offer a platform for other writers to share the things that weighed on them, too; hence the name, Cargo Literary.

Most eastern Canadian literary journals have been published by traditional university presses (such as The Fiddlehead or The Dalhousie Review) and focused either on regional content, fiction or poetry. My domain was nonfiction, and I was passionate about offering a digital magazine that offered diverse voices, not only from our own neighbourhoods, but from around the world. I wanted to take a step back to see the bigger picture. It was 2014, and the look and feel of publishing was changing. I wanted the magazine to have the appearance of an issue, but with the clarity and ease of a website.

Cargo Literary, which is published quarterly with 12 -14 features, has brought me into the vast wintry lands of Antarctica, into the cremation dust of the Ganges of Varanasi, India, into broken down cars in the mountains of Croatia, across the plains of China and into the camel caravans of the Tuareg, the nomads of the Sahara desert. It’s shown me first hand the difficulties in leaving a beloved home country by necessity, but also the critical struggle for identity in returning to a home country after a generation or two gone by.  Most of all, the magazine has invited me into the private moments of travellers at the intersection of vulnerability and culture, all set to a backdrop of golden flower hues of Thai sunsets, or the quiet opening of cherry blossom trees in Japan’s spring.

Keeping up-to-date in the content-driven travel world, especially beside the big travel companies, has proved to be a challenge. We get over a hundred submissions a month, in poetry, nonfiction, photography, and visual art. I couldn’t do this work without the dedication of a small group of readers: Kathy Large and LM Diener in nonfiction, Angus MacCaull in Poetry, and Renee Lauzon in Visual Art, with technical help from Jeremy Nelson. These are artists who read for Cargo Lit on weekends, during their vacations, through moves to new homes, the busyness of children and challenges in their own lives. Moreover, they are inspired visionaries and friends. 

I continue to be motivated by the stories that come in for Cargo Lit, aside from a busy writing career, being a communications teacher at a local college, and also a mom of three. The writers, photographers, artists and poets who are sitting behind their own desks with incredible stories to tell are a guiding light for me to continue my own work, and to become a better writer and editor. The magazine has given me the momentum to perfect the narrative arc of travel writing, while honing attention to detail and symmetry in the world of essay. The stories of resilience and strength that we publish have made me feel passionate about continuing my journey with the magazine, and also proud that the platform has become a home to many writers over the last four years as we head into Issue 15. 

Admittedly, Cargo Lit has grown up a little since we first launched back in February 2015. This spring we will launch our first audio piece on our blog, a poem I loved when I read it aloud. Cargo Lit is the perfect platform for trying new things, mixing genres, or even live tweeting a Paris to London trip. We also run contests, do author interviews and write book reviews. I often hear travel writers express their gratitude that we are narrative driven, especially in a world where influencers can be bought for their reviews, and editors are cutting words down to Top 5 lists. Our readership loves that our focus remains authenticity.

I always thought I was from “little old PEI,” the kind of small town attitudes and traditions that teenagers can’t wait to leave behind. It wasn’t until I started traveling that I learned how exotic being from Prince Edward Island really is, and I began to rethink my artistic design for the world. Cargo Literary has helped to show me that perspective is everything —and it is ever changing.

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Mo Duffy Cobb is a freelance writer, editor and the author of Unpacked: from PEI to Palawan (Pottersfield Press, 2017).  She has been featured in Write Magazine, The Rumpus, Literary Mama, and is forthcoming in Montreal Writes. Duffy Cobb holds an MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts, and she is the Founder and Editor of Cargo Literary, a digital imprint that publishes transformational travel experiences. She lives in beautiful Prince Edward Island, and is the President of the PEI Writers’ Guild.


Twitter @MoDuffyCobb, and on Facebook Author Mo Duffy Cobb.