Joseph Bathanti was born in Pittsburgh, Penn. on July 20, 1953, and grew up in an Italian neighborhood called East Liberty. His father was a steelworker and his mother was a seamstress, both children of immigrants who arrived from Italy and France in the early 1900s. As a teenager Bathanti held a number of working class jobs: he was a hod carrier for a contractor, carrying bricks in a box on his shoulder; a busboy; a dishwasher; a truck driver for a flower shop; a stock boy and a roofer.
“While I grew up in a very literate household, with plenty of books, I wouldn’t necessarily call it a very literary household,” Bathanti recalls. “Poetry, especially, was a foreign dog to say the very least.”
Joseph loved stories as a child and was galvanized to write because he was a voracious reader. “I became an English major in college and then went to graduate school in English. So my main job, if you will, was to read. That kind of immersion in literature – which I was wild about – simply pushed me more and more towards seeing if I might be able to do some writing myself. So, really, it started out with a love for books.”
Bathanti is a professor of creative writing at Appalachian State University where he is also Director of Writing in the Field and Writer-in-Residence in the University's Watauga Global Community. He has taught writing workshops in prisons for more than three decades and is former chair of the N.C. Writers’ Network Prison project.
“I can’t imagine a better place in the United States to be a writer than North Carolina,” Bathanti says. “There is no place richer in literature and no place that has celebrated writers in quite the same way as our state does.”
Bathanti’s books of poetry include This Metal (St. Andrews College Press, 1996 and Press 53, 2012), Restoring Sacred Art (Star Cloud Press, 2010), Land of Amnesia (Press 53, 2009), Anson County (Williams & Simpson, 1989 and Parkway Publishers, 2005), The Feast of All Saints (Nightshade press, 1994) and Communion Partners (Briarpatch Press, 1986). He has published two novels, Coventry (Novello Festival Press, 2006) and East Liberty (Banks Channel Books, 2001) along with a book of short stories, The High Heart (Eastern Washington University Press, 2007).
“His award-winning body of work is a powerful mix of old forms and new forms which has gained national and international recognition, and which adds up to a rich interpretation of modern American life,” said Randall Kenan, associate professor of English, UNC-Chapel Hill and chair of the poet laureate selection committee. “Also a prose writer of great accomplishment, Joseph’s novels and short stories and plays resonate with North Carolina's long tradition of literary bounty and excellence.”
“The North Carolina Poet Laureate is one of the state’s longest running and most important ways that we celebrate and share our state literary heritage with citizens,” said Wayne Martin, Executive Director, N.C. Arts Council. “Joseph’s work is accessible because he writes about topics that touch all of us: family, home and personal experiences.”
Bathanti is a two-time recipient of Literature Fellowships from the N.C. Arts Council (1994 and 2009) and will receive the 2012 Ragan-Rubin Award, made to an outstanding North Carolina writer, from the N.C. English Teachers Association (NCETA). He has received numerous other awards including the 2002 Linda Flowers Prize, awarded annually by the North Carolina Humanities Council; 2006 Novello Literary Award; 2002 Sherwood Anderson Award; 2006 Spokane Prize for Short Fiction, to name a few. His fiction, nonfiction and poetry have appeared in numerous journals including Carolina Quarterly, Texas Review, California Quarterly, Cincinnati Poetry Review, Connecticut Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Shenandoah, and New Letters.
Joseph Bathanti, NC Poet Laureate
On the Visiting Artist Program
On Becoming a Poet
On the Importance of Poetry
On Discovering Poetry
"God talks in the trees."
-- Thomas Merton, The Sign of Jonas
All day chainsaws
ring us and rave their litany
of cut and cut.
There can be no tomorrow.
It is five o'clock and already
the icy moon tethers above
the church of Mount Zion.
We see it from our bedroom.
Its white, spike steeple
points toward heaven.
Its clapboard walls are like snow,
much with us - a winter Purgatory.
Smoke fills the house with musk.
Ants spill from the wood
at the first trickle of flame.
Beneath the buckling bark,
grubs and glowworms disintegrate.
Forget that dirt is the last refuge.
In the split pit of wood so sharp
it sparked at the maul,
I have found chain,
a hatchet head;
even a swatch of calico,
a coffin nail and small bone.
We live in the trees, without knowing;
we live in the fire.
From Anson County (Williams & Simpson, 1989 and Parkway Publishers, 2005)