Epilogue: Local writer Tanya Coovadia 'had a way of connecting people'

Tanya Coovadia shows off Pelee Island Stories, a book of her short stories published last year. It won her a best regional fiction award.
Tanya Coovadia shows off Pelee Island Stories, a book of her short stories published last year. It won her a best regional fiction award.
Published June 4, 2016

Many writers, musicians, political activists and involved parents throughout St. Petersburg found a common friend in Tanya Coovadia.

She was a regular at local book clubs. Her pro bono photographs of school plays lined the walls at Perkins Elementary. She offered her website design services to anyone in need of publicity. While pregnant, she went door-to-door pushing her toddler in a stroller to champion causes she believed in.

Even at her first book launch in November, when death was near, she opened the floor for her fellow published authors to read their own work.

Mrs. Coovadia died at her Lakewood Estates home May 25 after a monthslong battle with esophageal cancer. She was 53.

Born on the Fourth of July in 1962 in Manhattan to two journalists, Alfred and Jacqueline Cappiello, she spent her formative years on the southernmost populated point in Canada, Pelee Island. That community served as the backdrop for her recently published compilation of short stories, appropriately titled Pelee Island Stories. It won her an Independent Publisher Book bronze award for Canada East best regional fiction in April.

Mrs. Coovadia stayed in Canada and raised two children, Aaron and Jordanne Fuller, who are now in their 30s and still live there. She met her husband, Adam, at an Elton John tribute show in Toronto. Mrs. Coovadia knew the group's drummer, and Adam Coovadia's friend was the bass player. The conversation never dulled, although it often steered toward politics.

"She was politically engaged. I always said she was far more Canadian than I was," joked Adam Coovadia, 40, a geneticist at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital.

Mrs. Coovadia studied journalism and spent a few years as a technical writer. She dabbled in website design and video editing. A lifelong reader who had to resist hoarding paperbacks, she decided to start writing for herself and set her sights on publishing.

She participated in Eckerd College's Writers in Paradise program and enrolled at Pine Manor College's Solstice program for a master of fine arts degree in creative writing. Mrs. Coovadia shared an affinity for regionalism in writing with Sterling Watson, a novelist and her mentor at Pine Manor and the Writers in Paradise program.

"Her writing had all the wonderful traits that come with being associated from a place like that," said Watson, 68, referring to Pelee Island. "If life gives you anything, it makes you unusual. … I think the place she came from had made her unusual."

When she wasn't writing, Mrs. Coovadia played bass guitar and supported her husband's band, Freelow, by designing posters and logos. She wrote songs with her teenage daughter, Darwin, and would play in her girl band.

"She was always making connections and always giving creative input either doing it for herself or involved in someone else's creative life," Adam Coovadia said.

Mrs. Coovadia's trouble swallowing food last summer led to a grim diagnosis: Stage IV esophageal cancer. Even with treatment, it left her with one year to live.

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An outpouring of friends stocked the Coovadias' refrigerator with food. Their house always had visitors up until her final days.

"When she got sick, I met all these people who knew her in so many different ways," said Dee Gill, 52, a freelance writer in St. Petersburg who campaigned with Mrs. Coovadia. "She kind of got us together. She kind of foresaw that we would need each other."

Eric Deggans, a TV critic for NPR, former Tampa Bay Times staff writer and published author, first met Mrs. Coovadia at a book club in St. Petersburg's Old Southeast neighborhood. Deggans, also a drummer, grew close with the Coovadias after playing gigs with Adam Coovadia's band. He read an excerpt from his book at Mrs. Coovadia's book launch.

"She had a way of connecting people," said Deggans, 50, who still lives in the Old Southeast. "A lot of us are friends because we're friends through her. It's up to us to keep the friendships and connections made, but it's hard when the person that started it all isn't there anymore."

Contact Colleen Wright at or (727) 893-8643. Follow @Colleen_Wright on Twitter.