Writer shares his life experiences through original work

Joseph Bathanti's poetry reveals his work with VISTA in southern prisons

YORK, Pa. — Joseph Bathanti, a poet, novelist and professor, will give a poetry reading of his original work on Thursday, Sept. 15, at Penn State York. The reading, set for 12:05 p.m. in the Lee R. Glatfelter Library, is free and open to the public.

Bathanti is a professor of creative writing and director of writing in the field at Appalachian State University. He is the Writer in Residence for the Watauga Global Community as well.

“Joseph is not only an accomplished artist but a master teacher who is very generous with his knowledge and experiences,” said Noel Sloboda, associate professor of English at Penn State York and the person responsible for bringing Bathanti to the campus. “His work will appeal not only to those who like poetry but to any philosophers or serious students of the human condition.”

Sloboda, a poet himself, attended an advanced poetry workshop in Raleigh, North Carolina, led by Bathanti.  He was impressed with Bathanti’s work, and after meeting him, was inspired to bring Bathanti to campus.  

A Pittsburgh native Bathanti is a 1975 graduate of the University of Pittsburgh where he earned a bachelor of arts in English. He served as North Carolina’s poet laureate from 2012-14, and has written 10 volumes of poetry, three novels, and a short story collection. According to Sloboda, Bathanti tackles a wide range of themes in his work and draws from his experiences as a volunteer in Southern prisons. Bathanti’s most recent work, “Concertina Poems,” recounts his experiences in those prisons and he tells the story of prison life in the South in the late '70s. 

The book includes poems about the gas chamber, bounty hunters, bloodhounds, and violence, but there are also works about yard basketball games, the prison kitchen, and children visiting their imprisoned mothers.

Bathanti, who now makes his home in North Carolina, with his wife, Joan, and two children, headed south in 1976 to work for Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) where his assignment was teaching at the state correctional facility in Huntersville. He has continued to teach writing and give workshops in prison ever since. His experience over the years includes working with the North Carolina Visiting Artist Program. His book, "They Changed the State: The Legacy of North Carolina’s Visiting Artists, 1971-95," chronicled the history of the development program.  

During his time as the poet laureate of North Carolina, Bathanti was part of more than 250 events around the state. In 2014, he was named the first scholar-in-residence for the Heinz History Center’s Italian American Program in Pittsburgh.  

He has received numerous awards over the years, and later this month will receive North Carolina’s highest civilian award, the North Carolina Award, in the literature category. The award will be presented by North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory on Sept. 22 in Raleigh.