Interview: Simpson & Taylor on Carolina’s Coasts

We recently spoke to Bland Simpson and Scott Taylor about capturing the essence and spirit of a large, rich place in photographs and words in the book they co-authored, The Coasts of Carolina: Seaside to Sound Country. For a limited time, their book, among many other great gift books, is available with a 20% discount through the UNC Press Holiday Sale! The Coasts of Carolina is the perfect thing to curl up with when it’s too cold to venture out to the beautiful places they describe. Here’s what the authors have to say about what went into their book:

Q: Between the two of you, you have 50 years of experience writing about and photographing the coastal area of North Carolina. What led to your collaboration on The Coasts of Carolina: Seaside to Sound Country?

A: Our friendship of nearly twenty-five years, our common interest in the natural world, the out-of-doors in all seasons and all weathers, and a shared deep affection for the rich variety of places and people of the beaches, the sounds, the coastal plain, the small towns, the outback — all of these inspired this project.

Q: What sets this book apart from other celebrations of the region?

A: Our seeing as best we can, through photographs and text, the outer coastal plain, sound country, and barrier islands as an integrated whole — ocean and estuary as holistically linked and to be portrayed as such.

Q: Why did you call the book the “Coasts” (vs. the “Coast”) of Carolina, and why “Carolina” and not “North Carolina”?

A: We chose “Coasts,” to emphasize the fact that there are several hundred miles of barrier islands with both sea beaches and sound side coasts, as well as nearly five thousand miles of interior shoreline, to drive home the idea that there are many coasts to consider when one looks at eastern North Carolina.

We chose “Carolina” over of “North Carolina” for the same reason that lyricists have often dropped “north” in song lyrics and titles: “when I first came to Caroline,” and “nothing could be finer, than to be in Carolina,” and “Carolina in my mind,” and so forth. It was an artistic choice favoring the more lyrical title.

Q: Tell us about some of the special places we will discover in the book and why they are special to you.

A: We’re inside David Yeomans’ home at Cape Lookout, James Allen Rose’s model boat shop on Harkers Island, a crab-sorting warehouse in Mackeys, at Cape Points (both Lookout and Hatteras) at dusk or dawn with the fishermen, in the oak alley at Orton — the environments are special, the people are special, and we’re simply trying to say that as emphatically as we can through these photographs and words.

Q: The book has a very personal feel and is full of accounts of adventures that can still be enjoyed in this region. You’re sure to inspire some to visit the coast. Do you have any suggestions about how to spend a single perfect day by the sea or in sound country?

A: Sure. Go to Edenton or Elizabeth City, Nags Head Woods or Ocracoke, Core Banks, Beaufort or Swansboro, Wilmington or Southport or Lake Waccamaw, and park one’s car and walk slowly around, down by the water, whatever body of water it is, through live-oak covered sand dunes or cemeteries, down streets with buildings that date to the 1800s, if not the 1700s, always walking, as much as possible.

Q: How did you decide which recollections to share with the reader and which photographs to include? Did you have any guiding principles?

A: We were after as highly detailed a panorama as we could create, in order to portray the color and vibrancy of this vast, varied region. This was the guiding principle.

Q: What makes the coasts of North Carolina so special? Is it the memories one has or is there something intrinsic about the area that speaks to outsiders and newcomers as well as to people who grew up with the coast as part of their history?

A: It’s the vastness of the coasts of Carolina, of the ocean itself, of the massive open waters of the sounds; of the big, dark rivers and broad creeks that feed them and the sounds too; of the big-sky open country of the farmlands; of the huge, deep, impenetrable pocosins and swamp forests.

Q: Bland, you have written many books about the North Carolina coast. What separates this one from the others you have written?

A: The lengthy essay in Coasts, “Never Let Me Go,” is the longest single personal, or memoiristic, piece I have ever published. Earlier books, particularly Into the Sound Country and The Inner Islands, have had many personal and familial anecdotes in and amongst a lot of other geographical and historical writing. “Never Let Me Go” is start to finish focused on the personal experiences I have had over the course of a lifetime and which have led me to devote my energies to all this writing about the water-loving Carolina east.<br />

Q: Scott, how did you decide which photographs to include? Did you select photos that you especially liked, or were you guided by the text Bland provided? How did the two of you work together on this project?

A: I included many of my favorite images as well as images inspired by Bland’s text. I started with over 500 images of the coasts of Carolina and between Bland and myself narrowed the selection to what you now see in the book. The entire process took over a year, with the last week a true joy of intense editing.

Q: How have the Carolina Coasts changed since you first started writing about and photographing them? How fragile is this part of the world, in all senses?

A: Hatteras island is thinner, particularly at the north end, and we could see from one to five new inlets opening in the very near future. . . . Core Banks has a new inlet, and that’s just the fragility and dynamism of the barrier-island land forms. . . . Water quality is a fragile thing, something that needs to be carefully and constantly monitored everywhere in these low, lowlands. . . . The social fabric of communities dependent upon the water, whether in terms of tourism or commercial fishing, or both, like Ocracoke, for instance, this too can be fragile. We are exploring a world where both people and places are subject to dramatic and at times wild, unpredictable weathers, and also to powerful economic forces from far off. To explore is to try and answer, as well as simply to present, such age-old questions as: How did these places come to be? How are they right now? How are they likely to be both sooner and later? We’re trying to tell a big story about a big place, and that’s the heart of the matter right there.