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Aerial photo of the NC coastline at Cape Lookout.
Lookout Light and Core Banks, Carteret County (photo by Scott Taylor)

Bookmark This is a feature that highlights new books by College of Arts & Sciences faculty and alumni, published the first week of each month.

The words Bookmark This are in navy blue on a white background, with a little outline of a book in the lower left corner.Featured book: North Carolina: Land of Water, Land of Sky (UNC Press, October 2021) by Bland Simpson, with photographs by Ann Cary Simpson, Scott Taylor and Tom Earnhardt.

Q: Can you give us a brief synopsis of your book?

A: North Carolina: Land of Water, Land of Sky is a personal portrait of our home state, from mountains to sea and much in the Piedmont and Sandhills in between.  My wife Ann and I — along with our terrific collaborators Tom Earnhardt and Scott Taylor (all of us Carolina graduates) — have drawn on personal experiences from across the state, and across our lifetimes, in conservation, teaching, music and theater in order to create this book — and we all share in its strong purposes of both celebration and preservation.

Q: How does this fit in with your research interests and passions?

A: I have worked with environmental groups (particularly the NC Coastal Federation)  and written for years about our wonderful and wonderfully abundant waters — 17 river basins, one of the largest (and most productive, as regards marine life and seafood nurseries) enclosed embayments in the world (the Albemarle-Pamlico lagoon), 322 miles of Atlantic Ocean coastline, 10,000 miles of interior shoreline — and working on this book allowed me, all of us, to cover and comment on a lot of this incredible resource, this blessing, and to connect the coastline with the places all of this water comes from:  the mountains and the Piedmont.  In terms of protection, conservation and restoration of all of this, we in North Carolina should really be leading the way:  Let us make our many waters living models to the world.

Photo of a mountain bluff with mountains in the distance, Ashe County.
Lookin’ Off Place, Bluff Mountain, Ashe County. (photo by Ann Cary Simpson)

Q: What was the original idea that made you think: “There’s a book here?”

A: Many conversations with my lifelong friend (and longtime UNC Press editor-in-chief) David Perry (an Asheville native), who wanted me, after many books about eastern Carolina and the Sound Country, to expand the territory and look broadly and deeply at our whole province. His passion for this idea was quite catching, and ere long — after putting a North Carolina map on a wall in Beaufort in late December 2014 and covering it with slender post-it notes marking places with stories I already had and others I knew I could find — I was off and running and never stopped. And Ann and Tom and Scott delivered the goods and then some in providing powerful, exemplary photographs to illustrate my literary approach.

Group photo outside of the author and photographers.
From left, Tom Earnhardt, Ann Cary Simpson, Scott Taylor and Bland Simpson. (photo by Tom Earnhardt)

Q: What surprised you when researching/writing this book?

A: So much discovery, so much more delight and deep joy than ever, so much sense of shared responsibility, a sense that if we treat and care for North Carolina as a true commonwealth — common wealth — and share it with each other (much of our state’s land and waters is in public trust — we own it together), and take care of each other and the land that we live in, we really will have a place that has, as the state song says, “heaven’s blessings” upon it.  There is much to do to get there, yet the progressive vision of our great 20th century leaders — Frank Porter Graham, William Friday, Terry Sanford, Jim Hunt, Betty Ray McCain, John Hope Franklin and others — points the way.

Q: Where’s your go-to writing spot, and how do you deal with writer’s block?

A: I love working at home in the Clover Garden community, Bingham Township, Orange County, west of Chapel Hill, and also down on the coast, in Beaufort.  If one is fortunate enough to have the time, the concentration and the inspiration — and to find what Conrad called “the right way of going to work” — then the words will come, and you will say what you need to say, and what you mean to say, too.

Bland Simpson is Kenan Distinguished Professor of English and Creative Writing in the department of English and comparative literature, which celebrates “225 years of rhetoric, writing, film and literature” this year. Simpson is also pianist for the Red Clay Ramblers, the Tony Award-winning string band. In 2005, he received the North Carolina Award, the state’s highest civilian honor.

Learn more about the book’s photographers via UNC Press.

Read an excerpt from the book at

Nominate a book we should feature (published in about the last six months) by emailing Find some great books to add to your reading list — or your holiday shopping list — by checking out our College books page.



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