The University Press of Kentucky has a dual mission—the publication of academic books of high scholarly merit in a variety of fields and the publication of significant books about the history and culture of Kentucky, the Ohio Valley region, the Upper South, and Appalachia. The Press is the statewide nonprofit scholarly publisher for the Commonwealth of Kentucky, serving all Kentucky state-sponsored institutions of higher learning as well as five private colleges and Kentucky’s two major historical societies.
History & Organization
The University Press of Kentucky (UPK) is the scholarly publisher for the Commonwealth of Kentucky, and was organized in 1969 as successor to the University of Kentucky Press. The university had sponsored scholarly publication since 1943. In 1949 the Press was established as a separate academic agency under the university president, and the following year Bruce F. Denbo, then of Louisiana State University Press, was appointed as the first full-time professional director. Denbo served as director of UPK until his retirement in 1978, building a small but distinguished list of scholarly books with emphasis on American history and literary criticism.
Offices for the administrative, editorial, production, and marketing departments are found at the University of Kentucky, which is responsible for the overhead cost of the publishing operation. Denbo was succeeded as director by Kenneth H. Cherry, who came to UPK from the University of Tennessee Press. During Cherry’s tenure, the size of the press more than quadrupled. Upon Cherry’s retirement in 2001, Stephen M. Wrinn, formerly of Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, became director in 2002. Leila W. Salisbury, former director at the University Press of Mississippi, then served as director of UPK from 2016 until 2019. In 2020, Ashley Runyon, who worked at the Press full-time for 8 years and later served as trade director at Indiana University Press, rejoined the University Press of Kentucky as director.
Since the 1969 reorganization, the Press has represented a consortium that now includes all of Kentucky’s state universities, five of its private colleges, and two historical societies. Each constituent institution is represented on a statewide editorial board, which supervises the UPK imprint. The Press serves:
- Bellarmine University
- Berea College
- Centre College of Kentucky
- Eastern Kentucky University
- The Filson Historical Society
- Georgetown College
- Kentucky Historical Society
- Kentucky State University
- Morehead State University
- Murray State University
- Northern Kentucky University
- Transylvania University
- University of Kentucky
- University of Louisville
- Western Kentucky University
Current Operation & Areas of Focus
From its offices on the UK campus, the Press’s full-time staff of 15 publishes 50-55 titles per year in print and electronic formats. The Press has 1865 titles in print with annual sales of approximately $1.85 million. UPK books are available through all major retail and wholesale channels, libraries, and online platforms, both domestic and international.
UPK’s editorial program focuses on the humanities and the social sciences. Its publications in film and military studies have earned the Press a national reputation in these fields, with reviews in such media as the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and NPR. Notable awards for UPK titles include: thirteen Frederick Jackson Turner Awards (history); six Weatherford Awards (Appalachian studies); three Lillian Smith Book Awards (African American studies); and the Lannan Literary Award.
Since the formation of the consortium, the press has meaningfully served readers, students, and scholars in Kentucky and Appalachia with publications of special regional interest. In the 1970s UPK produced the Kentucky Nature Series and the forty-seven-volume Kentucky Bicentennial Bookshelf. The Press republished classic novels by Kentucky authors including Harriet Simpson Arnow, Janice Holt Giles, John Fox, Jr., James Still, and Jesse Stuart. The 1992 Kentucky Encyclopedia received funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities and was one of the first state-focused encyclopedias. Later large-scale projects such as Atlas of Kentucky (1998), Encyclopedia of Louisville (2000), The Kentucky African American Encyclopedia (2015), and A New History of Kentucky, second edition (2018) continued the Press’s tradition of high-quality documentation and synthesis of the state and region’s history. In 2018, UPK announced the launch of three imprints: Andarta Books, in conjunction with Brecourt Academic; Fireside Industries, in partnership with the Hindman Settlement School; and South Limestone.
Memberships & Partnerships
In 2007, the Press entered into a partnership with the
Association of the United States Army (AUSA) to co-publish outstanding
works in military history and to serve as the premiere exhibitor at the
association’s annual conference. The Press also regularly exhibits
titles and works to cultivate authors at the annual meetings of the
Appalachian Studies Association, the Popular Culture
Association/American Culture Association, the Southern Historical
Association, the Society for Military History, the Society for
Historians of American Foreign Relations, and others. Current book
series of note include: Asia in the New Millennium; Civil Rights and the
Struggle for Black Equality in the Twentieth Century; Culture of the
Land: A Series in the New Agrarianism; Horses in History; Kentucky
Remembered: An Oral History Series; New Directions in Southern History;
New Poetry & Prose, in partnership with Centre College; Place
Matters: New Directions in Appalachian Studies; Screen Classics; Topics
in Kentucky History; and the AUSA American Warriors, Battles &
Campaigns, and Foreign Military Studies series.
UPK is a longstanding member of the national professional group the Association of University Presses (AUPresses), formerly known as the Association of American University Presses (AAUP). Over the years, UPK staff have served in a variety of capacities on AUPresses committees and working groups. The Press has also collaborated on books and events with statewide and community partners such as the Kentucky Humanities Council (this collaboration produced the outstanding New Books for New Readers Series, titles designed to enhance adult literacy through Kentucky-based subjects); the Kentucky Arts Council; Kentucky State Parks; the Kentucky Department of Libraries and Archives; the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife; the Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission; the Bluegrass Trust; and the Frazier History Museum, among others.