Writer, Photographer Team Up To Create Sound Country Portrait

November 13, 1997

CHAPEL HILL -- A major new literary portrait of North Carolina's eastern waters -- and the woody, sandy and often swampy flatlands that surround them -- has just been published by the University of North Carolina Press. Friend of Wildlife, the N.C. Wildlife Federation's quarterly magazine, calls "Into the Sound Country" the "finest work on coastal Carolina in years."

Novelist and musician Bland Simpson, lecturer in creative writing at UNC-CH, wrote "Into the Sound Country: A Carolinian's Coastal Plain." His wife Ann Cary Simpson, associate director of development at the Institute of Government, took most of the photographs.

Both grew up in eastern North Carolina -- the writer in Elizabeth City near the Pasquotank River and the photographer in Sea Level on Nelson's Bay east of Beaufort -- and enjoyed happy childhoods there. Bland's father was a lawyer, and Ann's a doctor. Woven through the text are personal experiences and extensive boating explorations of the state's sounds and streams.

The work is almost equal parts memoir, history and natural history. Tuscarora Indians, the pirate Blackbeard, the Lost Colony, Civil War blockade runners, ghosts, piney turpentine orchards, the modern pig-waste troubled Neuse River and the almost unbelievable early abundance of ducks, herring and other wildlife are but a few of the topics touched on in the new 269-page book.

"Dave Perry, editor-in-chief of UNC Press, and I discussed this project after I had completed a book about the Great Dismal Swamp," Bland Simpson said. "In each area of the coastal plain, Ann and I looked for some emblematic pursuit -- such as boat-building, scuppernong growing, turpentining, and elements of our Colonial history -- to explore. We just let our own intuition and interests guide us toward what to write about, what to portray."

As a boy, Simpson remembers thinking a lot about a Coca-Cola-addicted black bear named Cuff displayed at a gas station the Camden and Currituck county line. Life appeared easier for Cuff than for most of the migrant workers and their children he saw working the potato fields in the blazing sun. As a result, he writes of long-standing social conditions as well as newly recognized environmental threats.

"I also tried to keep a strong family element involved because my granddaddy was born in Onslow County, my mother and her brothers and sisters in Wilmington and my father's folks on the upper coast. Ann's family was from the central coast, and she was born in Jacksonville."

The writer also wanted to encourage Piedmont and Mountain North Carolinians to get to know better the often-neglected eastern region.

"Hundreds of thousands of people from Charlotte, the Triad and the Triangle drive through this flat land to get to the beaches, and many say it is the most boring landscape in the world," he said. "But it's just not. Despite some of the environmental problems well-reported these days, it's still an incredible place for birds and wildlife of all sorts, a biological paradise."

Raising awareness of the need for cleaning up and restoring health to shallow inland waters once legendary for productivity is one of the couple's goals, the writer added.

"I love reading this book," said Pat Conroy, author of "The Prince of Tides," "The Water is Wide," "The Great Santini" and "Beach Music." "It captures the sights and sounds and smells of the North Carolina coast better than any book I've ever read."

Besides teaching at UNC-CH, Bland Simpson tours the country with the Red Clay Ramblers, an acclaimed Carolina string band and writes musicals and novels. Ann Cary Simpson has worked for such conservation groups as the Nature Conservancy, the Environmental Defense Fund, Ducks Unlimited, the Conservation Trust for North Carolina and the N.C. Coastal Land Trust.

The Simpsons will on "NC Now," the UNC Public Television program, at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 19 and at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 20. Other appearances will be at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 2 at Barnes and Noble in Durham, the N.C. Maritime Museum in Beaufort at 11 a.m. and Waldenbooks in New Bern from 6-8 p.m. on Dec. 5, the Scuttlebutt in Beaufort from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 6 and the Cape Fear Museum in Wilmington at 11 a.m. Friday, Dec. 12.

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Note: To receive a photograph of the authors or a review copy of "Into the Sound Country," call Lisa Dellwo at UNC Press at (919) 966-3561 or fax your request on letterhead to (919) 966-3829.

Contact: David Williamson

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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