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Arts, Sports & Culture

How a Local Poet Laureate Got His Start

Heinz History Center

This month the Heinz History Center’s Italian American Collection is hosting its inaugural Scholar-In-Residence program.

Receiving the honor is Pittsburgh native Joseph Bathanti. He is also the Poet Laureate of North Carolina and has written eight books of poetry and the award-winning novel East Liberty.

All of his works began with an unexpected move by the young University of Pittsburgh Alum. When he was 23 years old, Bathanti volunteered for the  Volunteers in Service to America program (VISTA) and the experience changed the course of his life.

Bathanti was sent to the North Carolina department of corrections to do his service.

“The very first day of training I was seated with a young woman from Atlanta, who 14 months later I married. So I met my wife, loosely, jokingly, in prison. We were assigned the same prison project,"

The experience also inspired him to write a novel.

"Suddenly stepping on a prison yard, instantly handed me a pretty dramatic narrative to write about. I hadn't had any experiences of that ilk, with that kind of flair, in that kind of extremity. So suddenly I was immersed in the world of prison and the kinds of people who find themselves in prison. I began to write about that almost instantly.”

Bathanti’s literary career includes three books and a short story. On Sat., Jan. 25, from 1–4 p.m. Bathanti will lead a special memoir writing workshop in the Heinz History Center’s Detre Library & Archives.