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Bathanti Wins Carolina Novel Award

BOONE—Joseph Bathanti is the first writer to win the Carolina Novel Award for a book set outside the Carolinas. Bathanti teaches creative writing at Appalachian State University.

Banks Channel Books presents the award every two years “to encourage excellence in fiction writing by Carolina authors.” The Wilmington-based publishing house released Bathanti’s “East Liberty” in August.

“East Liberty” is the coming-of-age story of a fatherless boy living in a rough neighborhood in Pittsburgh in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

The boy aspires to be a priest, but continually commits small crimes to please his friends.

Bathanti, unlike the previous award winners, already was a published writer. He published four books of poetry before writing “East Liberty,” his first novel.

“This Metal,” his most recent poetry collection, won the 1997 Oscar Arnold Young Award for best book of poems by a North Carolina writer.

Bathanti said he always wanted to write a novel and that “East Liberty” was a “happy accident” which resulted from a short story he wrote. “I knew it was bad,” he said of the short story. “I went back to it and added to it and over the months had a novel on my hands,” he said.

Although Bathanti still has a passion for poetry, more fiction writing is on the horizon.

“I feel like my big store of energy is in fiction,” he said. “I am more turned on to that.”

Bathanti grew up in Pittsburgh, Pa., and received BA and MA degrees from the University of Pittsburgh.

“East Liberty” is based partly on exaggerated experiences from his youth, said Bathanti.

Also, many of the characters are composites of people he knew.

Bathanti developed a desire to write while a student at Central Catholic High School in Pittsburgh.

“I had some real fire-breathing teachers who really changed my life,” he said.

Bathanti moved to North Carolina in 1976 as VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America) volunteer and taught creative writing in prison.

He then taught English at Mitchell Community College in Statesville for 11 years.

Bathani says he didn’t develop a writer’s discipline until he moved to North Carolina. He prefers to write in the mornings, but often has to sandwich his creativity between work and family. “I do it in fits and spurts at times,” he said.

Bathanti now is working on a novel about prison and plans to write a follow-up to “East Liberty.”

“I’m just filled with ideas,” he said. “All I need is a little time.”