Reading Matters

Bathanti receives state’s highest award in literature;helps shape vets’ trauma into poetry

Joseph Bathanti
Joseph Bathanti

It’s little wonder that our former poet laureate, Joseph Bathanti of Appalachian State, was given the state’s highest honor in literature on Thursday evening in Raleigh – the 2016 North Carolina Award.

Bathanti is deserving in a number of areas: his many collections of award-winning poetry; his stunning memoir “Half of What I Say Is Meaningless”; his novel “The Life of the World to Come,” set partially in Charlotte; and his unflagging devotion to teaching and to his students.

But this year, Bathanti surpassed himself and his talents when he was appointed the Charles George VA Medical Center Writer-in-Residence at the Veterans Health Administration in Asheville. His task was to work with vets, especially those suffering PTSD, and to encourage them to give shape to their difficult feelings through poetry.

I can’t imagine a gentler, kinder, more insightful human being to help birth the traumatic memories of war than our own Joseph Bathanti.

Bathanti’s work with veterans, which goes back to his poet laureate term, is part of ASU’s newly-formed Appalachian Veterans Arts and Humanities Collective, a working group of Appalachian employees and students dedicated to bringing hands-on arts and humanities programs and workshops to campus vets as well as to vets and their families in the areas surrounding Watauga County and beyond.

Bestselling New York Times novelist,memoirist and Iraq War vet Matt Gallagher (“Youngblood” and “Kaboom: Embracing the Suck in a Savage Little War”) kicked off the Collective in June with a writing workshop for student veterans and veterans from the region. He concluded his visit with a public reading and book signing.

On Wednesday, Sept. 28, from 4-7 pm, on Appalachian’s campus, Bruce Weigl will lead a workshop entitled “Writing Trauma: A Workshop for Veterans and Their Families.” Weigl is a renowned poet and Vietnam veteran, Bronze Star winner, finalist for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize in poetry, and arguably the most important Vietnam veteran poet in the United States. He also serves as Appalachian State’s Rachel Rivers-Coffey Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing for 2016-17. He will give a public reading of his work on campus at 7:30 pm on Oct. 6.

Hearty congratulations to Bathanti for a well-deserved and outstanding honor.