Out, Damned Scot!
by the Staff of the University of Tennessee Press
February 29, 2024  •  7 minute read
Scot Danforth holding one of his favorite UT Press acquisitions (Photo by Shelly O’Barr, UT Libraries)

Scot Danforth was there the night in 2007 that Mister Satan broke out of the nursing home for a book signing and evening of music at Preservation Pub. A few years later, Danforth married a Methodist minister—a move that marked a shift in his life and the life of his coworkers. No longer married only to his job, the softer side of him seemed to win out. (Mister Satan—if you’re wondering—was Sterling Magee, one-half of the blues duo Satan and Adam. Mister Satan’s career was suspended for several years when he suffered a nervous breakdown and was confined to a nursing home. The other half of the team was Adam Gussow, who is both a blues harmonica player and a historian of the blues. The University of Tennessee Press published his 2007 anthology Journeyman’s Road: Modern Blues Lives from Faulkner’s Mississippi to Post-9/11 New York.)

Early in his career, Danforth had a near miss with the PhD program in philosophy at Vanderbilt University. Upon learning from his would-be advisor that he had been admitted to the program with a full ride for funding, Danforth said, “Well, I guess I should quit my job.” The professor asked, “You have a job? Do you like your job?” Danforth said, “Yes, I really do like it.” The professor then suggested that he could come to Vanderbilt if he wanted—but advised Danforth to turn down the offer and keep his job, because he’d never find employment as a philosophy professor.

The fourth director of the University of Tennessee Press, Danforth is the third longtime director. He began work with the press on April Fool’s Day in 1994 after five years as a copy editor at the University of Arkansas Press, where he worked with Miller Williams (father of musician Lucinda Williams). He began as director of the press on July 1, 2008, just in time to shepherd the press through the economic downturn (and, later, through a global pandemic). He is set to retire March 31, 2024, bringing his tenure at UT Press to a close at an even 30 years. 

Under his direction, the press has produced many award-winning books, and his easygoing demeanor and warm, self-deprecating humor have endeared him to his colleagues. Stephanie Thompson, now production coordinator, recalls the joy with which Danforth relayed the news of having received a great cover photograph for the forthcoming book Shelby Foote and the Art of History. At the time she was an intern, and was impressed by how he treated her as one of the team. This interaction, she notes, is a microcosm of Danforth’s leadership style. Per her observation: “Danforth is terrifically smart but doesn’t ever make you feel less so; he has an obvious love and contagious enthusiasm for our books and authors; he is a kind and thoughtful person who is inclusive of everyone.”

Tom Post, former marketing manager, tells of Danforth’s willingness to break from tradition, recounting the tale of a Thanksgiving potluck featuring barbecue and a documentary on Jesco the Dancing Outlaw. 

Graphic designer Kelly Gray tells of how she wrote “Kelly wuz here” on a Post-it note on her office door when she left for the University of Illinois Press. When she came back to UT Press, she found the same note on her door—Scot had scratched out “wuz” to replace it with “iz” and added a smiley face. 

Jon Boggs, copyediting coordinator, was nervous about starting with the press, as he was still recovering from the singular stresses of corporate start-up culture at his previous job. He explains of Danforth, “It’s not just that he expects you to be an adult and handle your own workload; he gets viscerally uncomfortable around people who pathologically tell on themselves. Like, he gets visibly anxious and irritated as if to say, ‘Why can’t this guy play it cool?’”

Post took the opportunity to disabuse Boggs of his idealized portrait of the good director. “Oh, he wasn’t always that way,” Post said with a singed sort of chortle. The man he described, then an acquisitions editor, would work long hours and quietly fume about his colleagues’ incessant sentimental ploys for more time on weekends and holidays. “That was Scot before Dawn,” Post revealed. “When she came along, everything changed.”  

As Danforth’s retirement nears, Dawn, his wife, is excited to spend more time with the man who she says makes her laugh harder than anyone she’s ever known. She dreams of a time when he no longer has to go spend the day with his press family and she gets to have him all to herself. “I can’t wait for that day to come!” His press family, on the other hand, will miss him terribly, and hopes he’ll at least drop by for a visit every so often. Whether he leaves a lasting legacy on the press is fairly clear. As the Wizard of Oz said, “A heart is shown not by how much you love, but by how much you are loved by others.”