Donatich to retire as director of Yale University Press

John Donatich, the longtime director of Yale University Press, has announced that he will retire on June 30, 2025.
John Donatich

John Donatich (Photo by Andrew Hurley)

John Donatich, the longtime director of Yale University Press, has announced that he will retire on June 30, 2025. Donatich has provided vision and leadership for both the New Haven and London offices of the Press during a time of transition in the publishing industry, with the rise of e-books and other digital technologies as well as changes in the worlds of retail, media, and higher education.

John has served with distinction for over twenty years, and he will be greatly missed,” Yale President Peter Salovey, said in a message today. “Since arriving at the Press in 2003, John has expanded [the Press’s] award-winning trade list, transformed its scholarly publishing programs, and forged numerous new publishing and distribution partnerships.”

Founded in 1908, Yale University Press is one of the world’s oldest and largest university presses. With offices in New Haven and London, the Press annually publishes more than 400 books across many subjects, from science, economics, and political science to history, religion, and literature. The Press is also one of the world’s foremost publishers in art and architecture.

Yale will conduct an international search for Donatich’s successor, Salovey said.

Under Donatich’s direction, the Press has published books by winners of the Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize, and its books have received numerous other awards, including the Bancroft Prize, Wolfson History Prize, National Book Critics Circle Award, and National Book Award. In addition, he strengthened the Press’s financial footing by spearheading successful fundraising efforts in excess of $40 million.

Donatich is founding editor of the Cecile and Theodore Margellos World Republic of Letters, dedicated to bringing world literature into the English language. Authors published to date include Adonis, Can Xue, Norman Manea, Pierre Michon, Serhiy Zhadan, and three recent Nobel laureates: Elfriede Jelinek, Patrick Modiano, and Annie Ernaux.

Other successful series conceived or overseen by Donatich include “Why X Matters” and several sets of short, thematic biographies: “Jewish Lives,” “Ancient Lives,” and the recently launched “Black Lives,” whose editorial board includes Jacqueline Goldsby, the Thomas E. Donnelly Professor of African American Studies and of English and professor of American studies at Yale; David Blight, Sterling Professor of History and African American Studies at Yale; and Henry Louis Gates Jr., director of the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research at Harvard.

Donatich partnered with the Windham Campbell Literature Prizes at Yale to publish the annual “Why I Write” lectures delivered by the Prizes’ keynote speakers, among them Patti Smith, Joy Harjo, and Eileen Myles.

Three other Yale-affiliated series established with Donatich’s guidance are the Henry Roe Cloud Series on American Indians and Modernity; the Yale Drama Series, funded by the David Charles Horn Foundation, an annual international competition for emerging playwrights judged by such luminaries as Edward Albee, David Hare, John Guare, and Marsha Norman, among others; and the just-announced Yale Nonfiction Book Prize, established this academic year in collaboration with the Yale Review — a worthy counterpart to the Yale Series of Younger Poets, the country’s oldest annual literary award, whose judges during Donatich’s term have included Louise Glück, Carl Phillips, and Rae Armantrout.

The robust “Little History” series, now entering its 17th year with 12 volumes to date, has built on the success of E. H. Gombrich’s “A Little History of the World,” which the Press first published in 2005 and which has now sold more than 1 million copies in all editions worldwide.

During his tenure, Donatich has fortified and innovated the Press’s scholarly publishing programs and contributions, publishing works by such established and emerging scholars as Leo Damrosch, Manisha Sinha, and Stephanie Jones-Rogers, as well as a variety of eminent Yale scholars, including Abbas Amanat, Ned Blackhawk, Harold Bloom, Carlos Eire, Paul Kennedy, Ben Kiernan, Priyamvada Natarajan, Frances McCall Rosenbluth, James Scott, and Odd Arne Westad.

Donatich has overseen a slate of innovative programs to preserve scholarship and propel scholarly inquiry into the digital age. The 2007 launch of the Anchor Yale Bible Series digitized and revitalized this ongoing enterprise renowned for excellence in biblical scholarship. In 2011 the Stalin Digital Archive digitized and expanded the Press’s extensive list in Soviet history. In 2013 the Interaction of Color mobile app for iPad and microsite — based on the classic “Interaction of Color,” by artist and Yale educator Josef Albers — won numerous awards and accolades. The Art and Architecture ePortal, launched in 2019 with funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, is the first aggregated site to host illustrated art historical content.

Donatich led the expansion of the Press’s world-renowned art and architecture list to encompass monographs, trade books, exhibition and collection catalogues, and catalogues raisonnés, with about 50 Press-originated publications and more than 100 distributed or buy-in titles published each year, including catalogues from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and dozens of museums from around the world. Donatich expanded the Press’s offerings in fashion history, including the popular “Catwalk” series, with sumptuous, authoritative books on such consequential designers as Coco Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Vivienne Westwood, Christian Dior, Miuccia Prada, and others.

In 2023 Donatich initiated and oversaw the agreement for a new sales and distribution partnership with the venerable publishing house W. W. Norton & Company — only the third change in distribution in the Press’s 115-year history. He is now shepherding the Press through this significant transition, as Norton begins to handle sales and distribution of Yale’s list to wholesale, retail, library, and specialty accounts starting in fall 2024.

What a privilege and honor it has been for me to lead Yale University Press for more than two decades,” Donatich said. “I am most grateful for my colleagues’ professionalism and excellence; we have fulfilled our primary mission of publishing rigorous and challenging books that display not only scholarly rigor and financial sustainability but that shine with a certain luster, attract critical attention, win prestigious prizes, are talked about and loved, and, as things of beauty, sell prominently.

I've always believed that books are a form of activism as well as a kind of charm; each has the power to change the world one mind at a time. I feel so proud and lucky to have been at the helm of Yale Press, taking up that charge every day, and leaving a legacy of publications that matter.”

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