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North Carolina Award: App State’s Joseph Bathanti Earns State’s Highest Civilian Honor

By Emily Willis and Cramer Lewis

The High Country’s own Joseph Bathanti, a resident of Vilas and professor of creative writing at Appalachian State University, was one of seven to recently receive the North Carolina Award, the state’s highest honor for civilians.

Gov. Pat McCrory presented the awards during a ceremony held at the Raleigh Marriott City Center on Sept. 22.

Recipients were honored for work in their respective fields:

  • Joseph Bathanti of Vilas for Literature
  • Dr. Linda S. Birnbaum of Chapel Hill for Science
  • Robert J. Brown of High Point for Public Service
  • James C. Gardner of Rocky Mount for Public Service
  • Dr. Assad Meymandi of Raleigh for Fine Arts
  • Dr. Paul L. Modrich and Dr. Aziz Sancar, both of Chapel Hill, for Science

Bathanti  has served as North Carolina’s poet laureate (2012-2014) and has written 10 volumes of poetry, three novels and a short story collection. He is the recipient of some of the state’s most prestigious literary awards and continues to inspire creative minds at Appalachian State.

“A lot of North Carolina writers, who are pretty legendary, whom I’ve looked up to, have gotten it, so what an honor,” said Bathanti. “What a humbling honor: pretty dreamy, pretty amazing.”

Bathanti has recieved many awards for his writing:

  • The Sam Ragan Fine Arts Award (1995)
  • Oscar Arnold Young Award – The North Carolina Poetry Council (1997)
  • Carolina Novel Award – Banks Channel Books (2001)
  • Sherwood Anderson Award (2002)
  • Linda Flowers Literary Award – NC Humanities Council (2002)
  • Novello Literary Award (2006)
  • The Spokane Prize – Eastern Washington University
  • North Carolina Poet Laureate (2012–2014)
  • Ragan-Rubin Award – North Carolina English Teachers Association (2012)

He came to North Carolina in 1976 to work for Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA), where he met is wife, Joan. His assignment was teaching at the state correctional facility in Huntersville. Teaching the incarcerated taught him the importance of allowing others to tell their personal stories.

Joseph Bathanti
Joseph Bathanti

Bathanti’s interest in persuing humanitarian goals through writing is reflected further in the initiative he undertook to work with military veterans as poet laureate.

“I would work with returning combat veterans, all veterans really, and their families to harvest their stories, their wartime stories, through poems, fiction, essays, you name it. So, I just threw myself into it. I had no experience four years ago, but now over the last four years I’ve done a lot of work with vets,” he said. “In fact, today we have something on campus called the Appalachian Veterans Arts and Humanities Collective. I was also the writer in residence at the Asheville Veterans Hospital this past year. I was working with Vietnam vets with PTSD in a writing workshop. The theraputic fallout is kind of indesputable. It’s one of those happy pieces of fallout.”

In addition to producing award-winning works and dedicating his talent to serve the community, Bathanti loves teaching at Appalachian State. He believes his position as a professor informs his work as a writer and vise versa.

“Teaching at Appalachian has been life-changing, and the novelty of being here will never wear off,” Bathanti said. “I work with terrific students every day, as well as with such gifted, generous colleagues. Teaching also has really made me focus on craft issues germane to all writers, regardless of their levels of experience.

“What ultimately led me toward writing was reading, and, really, after all these years of writing, reading remains the biggest influence in my writing. I’d like to say that teaching here at Appalachian has also been a profound influence in my writing. The kinds of things my students grapple with in their writing – things I comment on and offer suggestions about – tend to be precisely the same kinds of things I’m trying to get right in my own work.”

In 2015, Bathanti read an original poem entitled “Brooks Brothers Shirts,” which was written for and dedicated to the guest of honor, at the installation of Chancellor Sheri N. Everts at Appalachian State.

The Old North State, especially the High Country, holds a special place in the heart of this Pennsylvania native, who has built his life and developed his profession here.

“North Carolina for me is kind of like dreams come true,” said Bathanti. “I met my wife because of coming here. I wanted to be a writer and that dream, little by little, in fits and starts, became a reality here. I found a profession that I really like. I love the country. Watauga County especially feels like home. My kids went to school here, and this is where they come back to when they return home.”