PITTSBURGH: Joseph Bathanti will read on Tuesday, January 17th, 2017 at 8:30 pm in Rea Coffee House at Chatham University as part of the Words Without Walls Reading Series. A book signing and reception will follow the reading. This project is supported in part by a grant from the A. W. Mellon Foundation. The reading is free and open to the public.
Joseph Bathanti was born in Pittsburgh, on July 20, 1953, and grew up in an Italian neighborhood called East Liberty. His father was a steelworker and his mother was a seamstress, both children of immigrants who arrived from Italy and France in the early 1900s. As a teenager Bathanti held a number of working class jobs: he was a hod carrier for a contractor, carrying bricks in a box on his shoulder; a busboy; a dishwasher; a truck driver for a flower shop; a stock boy and a roofer.
After graduating college, he joined Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA), a branch of the domestic Peace Corps, and moved to North Carolina to mentor prisoners. He is the former chair of the N.C. Writers’ Network Prison project. In 2012, he was named the Poet Laureate of North Carolina.
In his writing, Bathanti draws heavily on his life, ethnicity, religion and personal experiences. His first poetry collection, Communion Partners (1986) addresses growing up in a religious family and attending parochial school. Anson County (1989) explores the people of that rural county he met during his work as a visiting artist. Family, work, place and religion again figure in The Feast of All Saints (1994) and This Metal (1996), which was nominated for the National Book Award.
His novel, East Liberty (2001) is a coming-of-age story about race relations and religion set in his hometown in the 1950s and 1960s. Coventry (2006), drawing on Bathanti’s experiences as a prison teacher and mentor, tells the fictional story of a prison guard’s son who follows in his father’s career only to be increasingly imprisoned by his own job.
Now a professor of creative writing and writer-in-residence for Appalachian State University’s Watauga Global Community, Bathanti instills in his young students the knowledge that regardless of their age or experience, they, too, embody stories.