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Award-winning Poet and Novelist from Vilas Named Poet Laureate for North Carolina by Gov. Perdue

Joseph Bathanti

Sept. 5, 2012. Award winning poet, professor and advocate for literacy, Joseph Bathanti, of Vilas, has been named North Carolina’s Poet Laureate by Governor Bev Perdue.

“Joseph Bathanti is an award-winning poet and novelist with a robust commitment to social causes. He first came to North Carolina to work in the VISTA program and has taught writing workshops in prisons for 35 years,” Perdue said. “As North Carolina’s new Poet Laureate he plans to work with veterans to share their stories through poetry — a valuable and generous project.”

North Carolina’s seventh poet laureate, Bathanti will be installed during a public celebration scheduled Thursday, Sept. 20 at 4:30 p.m. at the State Capitol. The event is free. He succeeds Cathy Smith Bowers, the state’s poet laureate from 2010 to June 30, 2012.

“Joseph Bathanti brings a deep appreciation of our state’s diverse communities, geographies and traditions to his new role as an ambassador of North Carolina literature,” said Department of Cultural Resources Secretary Linda A. Carlisle. “His appointment as Poet Laureate is a wonderful new chapter in North Carolina’s rich literary history.”

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.” 

A native of Pittsburgh, Penn., Bathanti arrived in North Carolina in 1976 as a member of Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA), a national service program designed to fight poverty, and he never left the state. Assigned to work in Huntersville Prison in Mecklenburg County, he met fellow volunteer and future wife, Joan Carey on his first day of training. They have been married for 35 years. 

For four years starting in 1985, Bathanti shared his talents as a poet and writer in rural Anson, Union and McDowell counties through the North Carolina Visiting Artist Program, a collaboration between the N.C. Arts Council and the N.C. Community College System running from 1971 to 1995, which brought a diverse range of artists to small towns and rural communities across the state. He wrote a non-fiction book about the program, They Changed the State: The Legacy of North Carolina’s Visiting Artists 1971-1995 on the 25th anniversary of the program. 

“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.” 

Martin added, “His idea to work with veterans puts him in good stead to be Poet Laureate for North Carolina.”

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.

“A superb poet, a dedicated teacher, and a warm and generous person, Bathanti is both an ideal public servant and advocate for poetry and literacy,” says Dana Gioia, celebrated poet and former Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. “He is an outstanding choice for N.C. Poet Laureate.” 

Bathanti will be installed as N.C. Poet Laureate in a ceremony at the North Carolina State Capitol, One Edenton Street in downtown Raleigh, Thursday, Sept. 20 at 4:30 p.m. The free event is open to the public.