New Director Shares Enthusiasm, Vision for UT Press

One day soon, the University of Tennessee Press plans to offer new opportunities for UT students interested in the field of book publishing. And, over time, the press’s author list will more closely reflect Tennessee’s diverse population. These initiatives are part of Katie Hannah’s vision for UT Press.

photo of Katie Hannah

Hannah, the new director of UT Press, joined the UT Libraries’ family on April 1. She returns to UT Press, where she formerly was marketing manager, after 20 years with commercial publisher W. W. Norton.

She shared her enthusiasm and plans for the future of the press. “Coming back to UT Press is a way for me to be more a part of my community,” said Hannah, who remained a Knoxville resident throughout her tenure with Norton. “And of course I do love the idea of working for a nonprofit publisher and really helping to get scholarly work out there, as well as titles of regional interest to my local community.”

The primary mission of a university press is to disseminate scholarship, including work originating at the press’s host institution. “We are always interested in the scholarship that our faculty are working on. And we draw authors from all over the country — in fact, all over the world,” Hannah said.

University presses are the primary publishers of the scholarly monograph, the type of in-depth, book-length writing that universities use to justify tenure and promotion within the academy. But university presses also publish popular works of intellectual or creative merit. “Scholarly works will probably remain the bulk of the UT Press list,” Hannah said. “The press has some really interesting niches in the publishing world, including vernacular architecture, sport and popular culture, Appalachian studies, and American religion.”

The press is examining ways to potentially update titles that have done well. “Part of that updating process will be making sure that we’re representing the voices of all Tennesseans,” Hannah said.

UT Press represents the entire University of Tennessee System, not just UT Knoxville. The press’s editorial board includes faculty members from all UT campuses. As part of her new role, Hannah hopes to further partnerships with other UT campuses. She has plans “of visiting some of those campuses and meeting faculty on those campuses and really having a statewide reach for the press.”

UT Press has been a division of the University of Tennessee Libraries since 2020. Being part of the University Libraries adds new priorities to the press’s mission — such as serving students. As a result, Hannah dreams of a program that will provide hands-on experience for students who want to go into publishing or art — or even business since there is a financial side to publishing.

“One of the things we have been talking about is establishing a publishing lab within the press. I envision having an entirely student-run house within the press,” she said.

Open access to information and scholarship is another goal the press shares with the Libraries. UT Press hosts a digital imprint, Newfound Press, that makes some titles freely available online. Hannah noted the tension between traditional publishing, which is driven by profits, and open access, which aims to make information and scholarship freely accessible. “We are exploring ways to publish more open access works while being sure that people are rewarded for their intellectual property,” she said.

Hannah intends to seek more donor support for the press’s public service mission. “A scholarly press has a mission to publish materials that commercial publishers wouldn’t,” she said. “A title might be potentially important from a scholarly standpoint but wouldn’t necessarily sell well. So a bigger commercial publisher wouldn’t take the risk on it. Because of that, university presses remain nonprofit, and they do rely on donors to help subsidize publishing.”

An academic press is an important institution in a state and is critical to advancing the mission of a university.

“Especially for an R1 university [a designated research institution such as UT], it signals our backing of scholarship and of the dissemination of information,” Hannah said. “So our role in making Tennessee a voice to be heard is a really important one.”