Monday, February 19, 2018

A Poet of Distinction, Nancy Simpson

It was with a very sad heart that I heard the news I had feared hearing today. My mentor and teacher, Nancy Simpson, poet and co-founder of NCWN-West, passed away today, February 17, 2018. She had been ill for a few months and had surgery at Emory Hospital.
We will miss her advice, her knowledge of our history and the journey she traveled to bring writing and publishing opportunities to those who lived where the difficult terrain of these mountains made it hard to find, and form a writing community. She was a strong advocate for those of us who were being short-changed because of where we lived. She was often a force to be reckoned with when she saw discrepancies in the way the poets and writers here in our area, back in the nineties, seemed to be ignored although we paid the same dues as those in the Piedmont area.
Nancy Simpson was a poet of distinction. Her poems appeared in the best journals. She authored three poetry books, Night Student, Across Water and Living Above the Frost Line, New and Selected Poems published by Carolina Wren Press (N.C. Laureate Series, 2010.)  With the late Kathryn Stripling Byer, Nancy Simpson went to the leaders of NCWN and the NC Arts Council to insist they bring to us a program which we have used for more than twenty-five years to form a writing community that has grown in number and in quality of work published. At first the program stumbled when the original program coordinator moved away. But Nancy Simpson stepped in and dedicated her time and energy for thirteen years as program coordinator and kept NCWN-West working for all of us. 
As many of us who enrolled in classes with Nancy at Tri-County Community College can attest, she gave generously of herself to her students. With Nancy's mentoring we fell in love with poetry as she had. In my first class with Nancy at the John C. Campbell Folk School, I shyly handed her some verses I had written. "Is this a poem?" I asked. She read it, smiled, and said, "Yes, this is a poem."
Within a year I had submitted and had published several poems. So many of us in Clay and Cherokee Counties in North Carolina and Towns and Union Counties in Georgia owe Nancy Simpson more than we could ever repay.

As program coordinator, she always had two representatives in the eight counties of NC, and the north Georgia region when she had only the telephone with which to communicate to those members so far from where she lived. All counties were involved through their representatives. This was before there were any regional reps for NCWN. Unlike in a city, writing groups were scarce in our area.


Nancy taught us how to hold a critique group where everyone respected each other and no one was rudely treated, verbally attacked, or made to feel they did not belong. She was a teacher and a leader. She helped to create professional critique groups for our members. This brought writers from miles away who were looking for that kind of group.

As a teacher of writing now, I refer to my notes from Nancy's classes in 1995, 1996, and later. I pass on the teachings of my mentor, my friend. Even after she resigned as program coordinator, she stayed involved with NCWN-West. She edited our last anthology, Echoes Across the Blue Ridge, which sold nearly 2,000 copies.

Nancy Simpson was also a special needs teacher in the schools in Hayesville, NC. After teaching all day, she drove two hours one way at night to Warren Wilson College to earn her masters degree.


The death of her son from cancer was a devastating blow. I believe that was when her health began to fail. While grieving her loss, she worked day and night on Echoes Across the Blue Ridge. It was a big undertaking for someone who was in mourning. She was proud of the book and so were we all. 
She spent so much of her time encouraging and teaching others, that she fell behind in publishing her own books of poetry. When her last book was submitted to a press, I heard that the editor was not eager to publish it because of Nancy's age. Her age was not the problem. It was her health. Sadly, by the time the book came out, Nancy was not strong enough to travel and do book signings. Although all of us who knew her treasured that book, if she had been able to travel across the state so many more people would own one of them. The book is still available  Here.

To know more about this outstanding woman, visit her blog. She had the most gorgeous flower garden and joyed in sharing pictures with her readers. Read her poetry and learn from this poet who published in all the major journals and was highly respected by editors and publishers, not only in North Carolina, but from California to Maine.

While Nancy Simpson is not with us physically we will always carry with us the memories of her teaching, her mentoring and her love for poetry.

Glenda Barrett, one of Nancy's poetry students,  and Nancy Simpson


Sunday, February 18, 2018

We say Goodbye to a Founder of NCWN-West, Nancy Simpson

It is with deep sadness that I write to you of the passing of Nancy Simpson, also known as Nancy Simpson Brantley. Nancy was an important member of the writing community, a practicing poet, a teacher, and a friend.
 

She was an active member of the North Carolina Writers' Network since its inception in 1985 and served on the Executive Board. In 1991 she co-founded the North Carolina Writers' Network-West, a program to serve writers in the remote areas of the North Carolina mountains. She served as program coordinator for 10 years.

A long time English educator and poet, Nancy Simpson Brantley formerly spent 26 years teaching in the exceptional children's programs in the Clay County School District in North Carolina. Retiring in 2001, she simultaneously spent 14 years as an instructor of creative writing at the Tri-County Community College from 1989 to 2003, in Murphy, NC.

She taught poetry part-time at the Institute for Continued Learning at Young Harris College, creative writing in the middle school grades and English composition, and American Literature at Hayesville High School.

For 15 years Simpson was employed part-time as a Resident Writer at John C. Campbell Folk School where her job was to schedule writing classes and to teach Poetry and Historical Novel.

Her books include: Across Water, Night Student, and Living Above the Frost Line, New and Selected Poems. Ms. Simpson and Shirley Uphouse co-edited Lights in the Mountains: Stories, Essays and Poems by Writers Living in and Inspired by the Southern Appalachian Mountains. Simpson also served as editor of Echoes Across the Blue Ridge, an anthology released in 2010. Simpson authored numerous poems published in literary publications. Some were reprinted in anthologies such as The Poet's Guide to the Birds, Word and Wisdom – 100 Years of North Carolina Poetry. Also, 7 of her poems were reprinted in a textbook of Appalachian poets.


Here is a link to Nancy's obituary pagehttp://obits.dignitymemorial.com/dignity-memorial/obituary.aspx?n=Nancy-Brantley&lc=4946&pid=188221106&mid=7765502

Nancy had requested that donations be made to NCWN-West, in lieu of flowers. If you are interested in donating in her name, please send a check made out to: NCWN-West, and send it to:

Newton Smith, Treasurer
6875 Canada Road
Tuckaseegee, NC 28783

The NCWN-West will hold a memorial for Nancy sometime in the spring of 2018.
Simpson blogged at : http://nancysimpson.blogspot.com/.

Here is a video link of Nancy reading two of her poems: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ikS2s5Mq9g

Joan Ellen Gage
Admin NCWN-West