Steve Cohn, director of Duke University Press for twenty-five years, retires at the end of this week. He told the Duke Chronicle, “It has been a wild ride—sometimes wonderfully challenging, sometimes challenging to the point where I had no idea how we’d make it through—but in the end a very successful one.” To honor Steve, we offer some tributes from people who have worked with him over the years.
“I knew at the time when the provost asked me to take up a leadership position at the press that Steve was fully in support of that action, even though he obviously had credentials infinitely superior to mine. Later I understood that Steve was acting in character; that is, he was being generous and professional and putting what he saw as the needs of the press ahead of his own ambitions. Steve has always been a ‘company man,’ someone whose loyalty and devotion to the enterprise was obvious at every moment. I cherish my own tenure at the Press and attribute the success that we had in those years to Steve’s extraordinary dedication. And he also put up with me.” —Stanley Fish, Davidson-Kahn Distinguished University Professor of Humanities and Law at Florida International University and former Director of Duke University Press
“My first job at DUP was as the first assistant Steve Cohn had ever had. While I think I taught him some things about how to be assisted, he taught me a great deal more, through the example of his leadership: how to act with integrity; how to disagree strongly without making enemies; how to listen to and consider differing perspectives; how to communicate clearly and directly; and so much more. Steve’s leadership has shaped the strong organization we have become.”—Patty Chase, Steve’s former assistant and current Digital Content Manager
“Thank you for being kind, patient, and enthusiastic about the topic at hand (no matter what it was).”—Maria Volpe, Steve’s current assistant
“I’ve worked with Steve for more than twenty years and throughout that time I’ve always been impressed by his integrity, his devotion to our mission, his accessibility to his staff, and his commitment to being transparent in his decision-making. Sometimes that means we get more information than we actually want! Personally, I’ll miss Steve’s subtle sense of humor, his kind advice about parenting, and his deep historical knowledge of the Press and of Durham.”—Laura Sell, Publicity and Advertising Manager
“Steve Cohn’s thoughtful stewardship of the Press, his commitment to having all staff participate in the strategic planning process, and his zeal not only for our mission but for the publishing industry in general have made him an exceptional leader. I’ve enjoyed hearing stories about the extraordinary lengths Steve went to to recruit people to the Press in its less-robust days (including loaning one of them his caravan), and I am grateful for the work he put into making the Press what it is today.”—Jocelyn Dawson, Journals Marketing Manager
“With smarts, integrity, and humor of an infectiously subtle kind, Steve has stewarded DUP to the cutting-edge prominence it holds today as kick-ass academic press #1. Steadfast in vision, bold in execution, with the chops to be daring, Steve has been an exemplary director. His legacy will linger for a very long time. But his presence will be sorely missed. Thank you Steve for making the press, and involvement with it, such a richly intellectual engagement.”—Anne Allison, Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Duke University and member of the Press’s Editorial Advisory Board
“The press has benefited greatly from Steve’s publishing entrepreneurial vision and we’ve come a long way in his many years as director. I’ve really enjoyed working for him these past nine years. I have truly appreciated his support of our working environment of creative collaboration that drives and enables DUP successes. I wish him lots of lazy days of biking, reading, kayaking, and traveling in his retirement.”—Nancy Hoagland, Director of Editing, Design, and Production
“Steve Cohn leaves an amazing legacy at Duke University Press. He has shaped the Press with his independent and innovative ideas and through setting ambitious, long term goals. His entrepreneurial approach has challenged the organization to innovate and to embrace change, such as being one of the first UPs to establish and successfully sell our own electronic journals and books collections. He has successfully led the Press through huge changes in the scholarly publishing industry and fluctuations in the US marketplace while continuing to grow the Press so that it is set up to thrive in the future. Many thanks, Steve, for all of your hard work and dedication. “—Cason Lynley, Director of Marketing and Sales
“Whenever I’ve needed help, Steve has been available with an amazing and immediate command of detail, the right questions, and ideas that have taught me time and again how to balance pragmatism and our mission. I’ve always left the room with a solid plan and a lighter mind. Thank you for everything, and congratulations, Steve!”—Leslie Eager, Director of Publishing Services, Project Euclid
“I’ll always be grateful for Steve’s vision, creativity, and tenacity, In 2010, he envisioned Duke University Press as a digital publisher of distinction, and set us a goal of selecting, producing, marketing, and selling our digital publications with as much expertise and finesse as we did our print books and journals. To drive us forward in this area, Steve tapped me to lead our digital publishing strategy, and in doing so, provided me with a tremendous opportunity to contribute meaningfully to the Press and to scholarly publishing more generally. I am the publishing professional I am today due in large part because Steve shared generously his vast store of publishing knowledge and insight. For this and so much more, thank you, Steve.”—Allison Belan, Associate Director, Digital Strategy & Systems
“Steve envisioned what the Press could become and was the brilliant planner able to bring it into being. Each time the publishing environment changed for books or for journals, he was looking ahead to see what we needed to do in order to flourish five and ten years out. His guidance and leadership will be long remembered. He never told us what to publish, but always made it better.”—Ken Wissoker, Editorial Director
In his retirement, Steve plans to devote more time to the Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association, of which he is president. All of us at the Press will miss him and wish him the best in all his future endeavors. We are welcoming our new director, Dean Smith, on June 25.