Back to Blog

Bathanti Honored with Lee Smith Literary Award

From our friends at Lincoln Memorial University:

Joseph Bathanti

Sarrogate, TN — Joseph Bathanti received the Lee Smith Award during Lincoln Memorial University’s (LMU) 2019 Mountain Heritage Literary Festival (MHLF). The prize recognizes an individual who has worked to preserve and promote Appalachian culture.

“To win an award with Lee Smith’s name attached to it is a supreme and humbling honor,” Bathanti said. “How I love and admire her and her work.”

Bathanti is professor of English and McFarlane Family Distinguished Professor of Interdisciplinary Education and writer-in-residence of Appalachian State University’s Watauga Residential College. He served as the 2016 Charles George VA Medical Center Writer-in-Residence in Asheville, North Carolina. He is former Poet Laureate of North Carolina (2012-14) and recipient of the 2016 North Carolina Award for Literature. He served as the 2019 MHLF keynote speaker and led the poetry master class.

“When asked to recapitulate my career, I always say that my first teaching job was in a prison, and in the narrowest sense this is true,” Bathanti said in his keynote address. “What I fail to say is that my teaching in prison was in many ways the beginning of my own education. Prisons are but one shackle in the ponderous chain of group homes, halfway houses, soup kitchens, mental hospitals, domestic abuse shelters, juvenile detention centers and homeless shelters. The same characters show up in each script. It’s no secret that all social ills are intimately connected, but it’s something I had to learn by seeing it for myself.”

Bathanti is the author of ten books of poetry, including Communion Partners; Anson County; The Feast of All Saints; This Metal (nominated for the National Book Award, and winner of the Oscar Arnold Young Award); Land of Amnesia; Restoring Sacred Art (winner of the 2010 Roanoke-Chowan Award, given annually by the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association for best book of poetry in a given year); Sonnets of the Cross; Concertina (winner of the 2014 Roanoke-Chowan Award); and The 13th Sunday after Pentecost, released by LSU Press in 2016.

His novel, East Liberty, won the 2001 Carolina Novel Award. His novel, Coventry, won the 2006 Novello Literary Award. His book of stories, The High Heart, won the 2006 Spokane Prize. They Changed the State: The Legacy of North Carolina’s Visiting Artists, 1971-1995, his book of nonfiction, was published in early 2007.

His recent book of personal essays, Half of What I Say Is Meaningless, winner of the Will D. Campbell Award for Creative Nonfiction, is from Mercer University Press. His novel, The Life of the World to Come, was released from University of South Carolina Press in late 2014.

The Lee Smith Award, named in honor of Appalachia’s most well-known writer [and inductee of the NC Literary Hall of Fame – ed.], spotlights those doing good work in the region. Smith’s publications include Fair and Tender Ladies, On Agate Hill, and many others. Prior recipients of the Lee Smith Award include Silas House, Earl Hamner, Jr., Sheila Kay Adams, George Ella Lyon, Beverly May, John Lang, and Pamela Duncan.

The Mountain Heritage Literary Festival, held annually in June at LMU, continues to grow and have a positive influence on the literature of Appalachia. The festival carries on the long literary tradition that exists at LMU, which claims such literary alums as James Still, Jesse Stuart, Don West, and George Scarbrough.

Lincoln Memorial University is a values-based learning community dedicated to providing educational experiences in the liberal arts and professional studies. The main campus is located in Harrogate, Tennessee. For more information about the undergraduate and graduate programs available at LMU, contact the Office of Admissions at 423-869-6280 or e-mail at