ASU professor Joseph Bathanti receives North Carolina award


Ben Sessoms

English professor Joseph Bathanti.

Ben Sessoms

In 1976 Joseph Bathanti, like many other college graduates, didn’t have a clue what he wanted to do with his life.

Forty years later, he has had an illustrious career as a writer, an Appalachian State creative writing professor, a former North Carolina Poet Laureate and most importantly, as a model citizen. Now Bathanti has been rewarded with the North Carolina Award, the state’s highest civilian honor.

After growing up in what he describes as a tough, inner city Pittsburgh neighborhood and graduating from the University of Pittsburgh with a bachelor of arts in English, Bathanti said he wasn’t sure where to take his life next.

“I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, not unlike a lot of college graduates maybe,” Bathanti said. “Really all I wanted to do was read and write to tell you the truth, but there weren’t any job ads for that.”

While he was considering his life’s direction, Bathanti joined the Volunteers in Service to America and was assigned to work in the N.C. prison system. He worked in Huntersville, North Carolina for 14 months.

“One minute I was in my mother’s kitchen. The next minute I was in a prison yard,” Bathanti said.

During his time in the prison, Bathanti coached team sports and taught inmates to stretch their muscles in reading and writing.

“I thought that would be a year of productive pondering and meandering, and it was completely life changing. Nothing has been the same since,” Bathanti said.

Bathanti’s wife was also a VISTA volunteer, and they were married after leaving the program. Bathanti then began his career as a teacher.

He has continued to work in the N.C. prison system and with returning veterans throughout his 40 years living in the state.

English department chair Carl Eby said it is a great honor for the university to have a North Carolina Award recipient on their staff.

“There’s faculty who distinguish themselves as teachers, there’s faculty who distinguish themselves as writers and there’s faculty who distinguish themselves through administrative service or some other kind of service or community service,” Eby said. “Joseph’s the whole package. The real deal.”

Susan Weinberg, professor in the creative writing program, said Bathanti is reliable and wonderful to work next to.

“[He is] just a wonderful person who takes a lot on himself, and you can always count on him,” Weinberg said. “If he says he’s going to do something, help with something, or talk with somebody, he does it 1000 percent.”

Beginning his 16th year at ASU, Bathanti said that he was thankful for the generosity that the university has shown to him.

“Forty years later I can’t imagine living anywhere else,” Bathanti said. “Pittsburgh is my beloved hometown, but North Carolina is my beloved home state.”

Story and photo by: Ben Sessoms, News Reporter