North Carolina’s current Poet Laureate Joseph Bathanti, Appalachian State University professor and teacher of prison writing workshops, will be headed to Lincolnton later this month.
Bathanti, whom former Gov. Bev Purdue granted the literary title in July and officially installed in September, will be at the Charles R. Jonas Library in Lincolnton on Monday, just one of many trips he’s taken to Lincoln County over the years.
He told the Times-News the governor names a new poet laureate every two years. Individuals are nominated and later reduced to a list of finalists. A panel then examines each nominee’s work before the Governor “makes the final call,” he said.
The distinguished poet could not be more thrilled to hold the celebrated title.
“It’s the greatest honor I’ve ever had in my life,” he said. “I’m taking it really, really seriously. I love North Carolina and its people and its geography…it has the greatest community of writers as far as I’m concerned.”
Since starting his teaching career at age 23, Bathanti has worked at various community colleges and the last 12 years at ASU. In addition to college students, one of his favorite audiences is inmates.
After applying for the AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) program immediately following grad school, he moved from Pennsylvania to North Carolina and worked two years in the state prison system teaching writing, he said. However, after his volunteer position ended, his passion for educating a portion of society which most would shy away from continued to grow, encouraging him to keep dabbling in prison learning labs.
“A lot of prisoners are really terrifically creative,” Bathanti said. “They all have … stories, and it’s good for them to channel that kind of creativity and step outside themselves.”
He believes it’s vital for inmates to have a life “apart from prison” where they can tap into their imaginations and realize “they are better at things than they think they are.”
Bathanti even once served as chair of the N.C. Writers’ Network Prison Project, which recruits fellow writers to hold similar prison writing workshops in their counties. He even has plans to teach at an Edgecomb County prison later this month, he said.
Since becoming poet laureate, Bathanti has spent most of his days on the road, visiting numerous colleges, libraries, shelters, hospitals and other civic clubs and organizations.
In addition to speaking engagements across the state, his title requires that he work on a “signature project,” but for Bathanti, choosing a project topic was anything but difficult.
Ever since hearing the war stories of an ASU colleague’s military son, who spent time as a corpsman in Iraq, the poet laureate became interested in being a voice for returning combat veterans, harvesting their stories through poetry and other forms of writing.
After meeting the soldier turned student, Bathanti soon noticed that more and more students on campus were war veterans.
His motivation for teaching all these years has not only stemmed from his interest in education and young people but also the profession’s ability to make him a more well-rounded individual.
“It enables me to be a better reader, writer and citizen,” he said.
While at a young age, he didn’t know his life would include such a distinguished career, filled with fiction, non-fiction and poetry writing, he was certain of his talent and passion by his sophomore and junior years of college.
“I was really burning with desire at that point,” Bathanti said.
For him, poetry has an attractive language and sound and proves more multidimensional than any other literary form
“It’s a shorter medium that you can accomplish a lot with,” he said. “It’s coming from every little nook and cranny imaginable.”
The seasoned writer/author offered simple but significant advice to today’s generation of literary novices.
“Read, read, read,” he said. “Don’t take no for an answer and be patient. It takes a while. You have to write badly before you can write well.”
For more information on N.C. Poet Laureate Joseph Bathanti, visit the North Carolina Arts Council website.