Joseph Bathanti

Joseph Bathanti wins the Lee Smith Award during the 2019 Mountain Heritage Literary Festival.

BOONE — Appalachian State University’s Joseph Bathanti — North Carolina’s seventh poet laureate (2012–14) — was recently honored with the Lee Smith Award during the 2019 Mountain Heritage Literary Festival held at Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tenn.

The prize recognizes an individual who has worked to preserve and promote Appalachian culture. The Lee Smith Award, named in honor of Appalachia’s best-known writer, spotlights those doing good work in the region. Smith’s publications include “Fair and Tender Ladies,” “On Agate Hill” and many others. Prior recipients of the Lee Smith Award include Silas House, Earl Hamner Jr., Sheila Kay Adams, George Ella Lyon, Beverly May, John Lang and Pamela Duncan.

“To win an award with Lee Smith’s name attached to it is a supreme and humbling honor,” Bathanti said. “How I love and admire her and her work.”

Bathanti is a professor of creative writing in Appalachian’s Department of English and the McFarlane Family Distinguished Professor of Interdisciplinary Education. He teaches full time in Appalachian’s Watauga Residential College and developing new programs to promote the college. Additionally, he served as the 2016 Charles George VA Medical Center Writer-in-Residence in Asheville.

Bathanti served as the keynote speaker for the 2019 MHLF and led the festival’s poetry master class.

In his keynote address, Bathanti said, “When asked to recapitulate my career, I always say that my first teaching job was in a prison, and in the narrowest sense this is true. What I fail to say is that my teaching in prison was, in many ways, the beginning of my own education.

“Prisons are but one shackle in the ponderous chain of group homes, halfway houses, soup kitchens, mental hospitals, domestic abuse shelters, juvenile detention centers and homeless shelters. The same characters show up in each script. It’s no secret that all social ills are intimately connected, but it’s something I had to learn by seeing it for myself.”

Bathanti is the recipient of numerous awards, including the 2001 Carolina Novel Award for his novel East Liberty”; the 2006 Novello Literary Award for his novel “Coventry;” and the 2016 North Carolina Award for Literature. Additionally, his book of stories, “The High Heart,” won the 2006 Spokane Prize, and he received the Will D. Campbell Award for Creative Nonfiction for his book of personal essays titled “Half of What I Say Is Meaningless.”

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