BOONE—A defining moment in Joseph Bathanti’s life occurred when he learned the Vietnam War had ended.
“I was a college student driving a flower delivery truck in Pittsburgh in 1973 and listening to the Beatles’ song ‘Julia’ on the radio when the song was interrupted to announce that the war had ended,” Bathanti recalled. A line from the song is the title of Bathanti’s latest publication, “Half of What I Say is Meaningless,” published by Mercer University Press.
Bathanti, Appalachian State University professor and former North Carolina Poet Laureate, shares other milestones in his life in the series of memoirs set in his hometown of Pittsburgh and North Carolina, which has been his home since 1976.
Bathanti’s essays in “Half of What I Say is Meaningless” touch on home, family, ancestry and spirituality. He writes about his early conflicted obsessions with Catholicism; Bill Mazeroski’s famous 1960 World Series home run; a life-changing visit to writer Thomas Wolfe’s boyhood home in Asheville; the Vietnam War; his mother and father and his Italian-American identity; the concept of work and what it really means; the netherworld of prison; marriage and fatherhood; his day as an extra in the cult-classic horror film Evil Dead II; and the unlikely path, ever unwinding, that led him ultimately to achieving his dream of becoming a writer, according to the publisher.
When pressed for a favorite among the essays, Bathanti picks two: “Ghost, Come Back Again,” written about his first trip to Boone and to Asheville to visit the Thomas Wolfe house, and “The Turf of Hankering,” about coming to North Carolina to be a VISTA volunteer and meeting his future wife, who also was a volunteer with VISTA. Bathanti said “The Turf of Hankering” also is about “a Yankee boy coming South and finding his true home.”
While not a native son, Bathanti loves North Carolina and its people as much as any Tar Heel by birth. He has shared his talents as a writer and poet from his first days as a VISTA volunteer leading writing workshops in the state’s prisons to his current career as a professor of creative writing at Appalachian where he is also Director of Writing in the Field and writer-in-residence in the University’s Watauga Global Community.
While the end of the Vietnam War meant Bathanti’s “pretty bad draft number” wasn’t called, he has found other ways to assist members of the military. While poet laureate he worked with veterans and will continue to help them discover their voice through creative writing. He also has written poems honoring veterans, families of veterans and all North Carolina citizens who honor America’s veterans, and helped put veterans’ stories on the stage through the staging of “Deployed” by the Touring Theatre of North Carolina.
Bathanti also is the author of two novels, a collection of stories, and eight books of poetry. For more information about his latest book, visit http://www.mupress.org.