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Coastal Cohort

Down East with Bland Simpson


Nobody writes stories and songs about the North Carolina coast like Bland Simpson. Since he grew up "Down East," Simpson has an abiding regard for our windswept coast with its string of islands, as well as for the murky waters of the Great Dismal Swamp.

Local theatergoers will remember Simpson from several years ago when he and the other "Coastal Cohorts," Don Dixon and Jim Wann, brought King Mackerel & The Blues Are Running, a musical Simpson helped write, to Charlotte Rep.

Simpson, as you can tell, is a true man of many talents. In fact, that seems a trite description of a guy who is (deep breath): the director of UNC-Chapel Hill Creative Writing Program; a musician/songwriter who is a member of the internationally acclaimed stringband The Red Clay Ramblers and has a solo CD out; a contributor to at least 10 musicals; the author of five books and a contributor to numerous magazines. In 1999, Simpson won the Governor's Award as "Conservation Communicator of the Year" from the NC Wildlife Federation and he won the NC Folklore society's "Brown-Hudson Award" for writing and music concerning state and regional heritage. As a member of the Red Clay Ramblers, he's shared in a 2003 Back Porch Music Artist of the Year Award, an Indie Arts Award from Durham's Independent Weekly and a special Tony Award in 1999 for the musical Full Moon.

For Creative Loafing Carolina Writers Night, Simpson plans to read excerpts from Ghost Ship of Diamond Shoals, his 2002 account of the wreck of the five-masted schooner the Carroll A. Deering off the Outer Banks. The Deering was found run aground on Diamond Shoals off Hatteras Island in 1921; her entire crew was gone -- vanished without a trace. The mystery of what happened to that crew has passed into maritime lore, much like another famous ghost ship, the Mary Celeste.

He'll also read from Into the Sound Country and preview the book he's currently working on, The Inner Islands. Into the Sound Country, which he wrote with his wife, photographer Ann Cary Simpson, offers history, anecdotes and a very personal look at life on the Carolina coastal plain.

Simpson says he'll probably add a few songs from King Mackerel into the mix as well as some of his solo work. King Mackerel is a spirited celebration, in song and story, of the Carolina coast. His solo CD, Follow You All Over the World, is a collection of 13 original songs.

"This will be the first time I have ever done a reading or solo performance of any sort in Charlotte," he says. "I've recorded there with Don and Jim, done King Mackerel at the Booth, a number of Rambler shows at Spirit Square and elsewhere -- but never a show like this one, so it's a very special one for me."

Bland Simpson will appear at Creative Loafing Carolina Writers Night, Tuesday, October 26, at 7pm at Neighborhood Theatre.

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