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Carolina Story: Virtual Museum of University History

Bland Simpson

Born in 1948, Bland Simpson grew up in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, and graduated from the university in 1973 with a degree in political science. During the early 1970s, Simpson began collaborating with his classmates on theatrical productions that critics labeled “musicians’ theater.” With Jim Wann, he wrote the musical Diamond Studs, which ran off Broadway in 1975. Simpson joined the old-time string band, the Red Clay Ramblers, as a piano player in 1986. The Ramblers wrote the score for and appeared in playwright Sam Shepard’s films Far North and Silent Tongue. In 1992, the group collaborated with David Shine and Bill Irwin to create the Tony-award winning play Fool Moon. He has recorded extensively with the Ramblers as well as in solo releases. With cartoonist Doug Marlette, Simpson wrote Kudzu, A Southern Musical, based on Marlette’s comic strip. In 1982, Simpson started teaching in the writing program at Chapel Hill and began his publishing career. His first book, Heart of the Country, A Novel of Southern Music, was published in 1983. He has written five more books drawing on North Carolina history and geography, both fiction and nonfiction. In 2002, Simpson became director of Carolina’s writing program.