Appalachian is home to new N.C. poet laureate

Anne Buie

It was a Friday in July when he got the call.

Joseph Bathanti, an Appalachian State University English professor, was in Georgia with his wife when she called their home answering machine. Waiting there was a message that Bathanti had been selected as North Carolina’s new poet laureate.

“She said, ‘You better listen to this,'” Bathanti said. “I was excited and I thought, wow. It’s very hard to believe.”

The poet laureate position is an honor traditionally awarded by the governing body of a state, region, or country.

Recipients are considered the official poet of their areas, and are often expected to compose poems for special events and causes.

“I’m kind of like the ambassador for literature in North Carolina,” Bathanti said. “I know that’s a rather lofty title to have, but that’s one of the things that state poet laureates do.”

Poet laureates also take on service projects, like speaking in prisons, shelters and schools. In North Carolina, poet laureates often take on specific literary causes of their own choosing.

For Bathanti, that cause is working with war veterans.

“As a teacher over the years, I’ve had vets come into my class,” he said. “Over the past ten years or so, quite a few — because we were at war on two fronts, in Afghanistan and Iraq, and suddenly young men and women were showing up more and more in my classes. Sometimes, they’re really reticent to write about it.”

On the campus of Appalachian State University, Bathanti directs the Writing in the Field program, serves as writer-in-residence for the Watauga Global Community and is a well-respected creative writing professor.

“He’s a really great teacher, and I like his style,” said sophomore psychology major Ian Batts, who took Bathanti’s creative writing-themed Watauga Global Community class last semester.

Bathanti is also the recipient of a number of North Carolina literature awards and nominations, including the 2012 Ragan-Rubin award, the 2006 Novello LIterary Award and the 2002 Sherwood Anderson Award.

To date, he has produced six poetry collections, three novels and one work of nonfiction. His works have appeared in various journals, and he has twice received literature fellowships from the North Carolina Arts Council, once in 1994 and once in 2009.

Bathanti’s most recent published work is a poetry collection, Restoring Sacred Art.


Story: EMMA SPECKMAN, Intern A&E Reporter