Recent and bestselling books from Trinity University Press. Courtesy photo.
Recent and bestselling books from Trinity University Press. Courtesy photo.

Thirteen years after Barbara Ras led its revival as a university publishing house, Trinity University Press has announced Ras is stepping back and that her key associate Thomas Payton will assume duties as the new director on Jan. 1.

Payton will oversee all print and digital book? publishing operations for the press, which functions as a division of Trinity University. Ras, a nationally recognized poet as well as publisher, will continue as associate director for editorial as part of a leadership succession plan she developed.

Barbara Ras. Photo courtesy of Trinity University Press.
Barbara Ras. Photo courtesy of Trinity University Press.

“This is a fabulous opportunity to keep a great leadership team in place,” Ras said Wednesday. “Tom and I have worked hand-in-hand for the past six years, and his contributions to the Press have been extraordinary. Moving ahead, it means that we’ll have one of the most brilliant people in publishing taking on the role of Director. I’m thrilled that we will have a seamless transition and ensure a terrific future for the Press’s mission.”

Ras came to San Antonio and Trinity University from the highly respected University of Georgia Press in 2002 and has served as its only director since the imprint was revived after being mothballed in 1989. The move to relaunch the press was seen as a longshot gamble on the part of Trinity University and the Ewing-Halsell Foundation, which helped fund the initiative. The state is dominated by big public university presses. Ras, later joined by Payton in 2010 as associate director, proved critics wrong. Trinity Press has gone on to earn a national reputation for both the stature of its authors and the design and production quality of its books.

Tom Payton. Photo courtesy of Trinity University Press.
Tom Payton. Photo courtesy of Trinity University Press.

“The Trinity Press is an important University resource and a critical component to Trinity’s outreach and service nationally and within the San Antonio community,” said Michael Fischer, vice president for Faculty and Student Affairs, in announcing the appointment. “During the transitional years ahead, the Press will benefit from having two seasoned book professionals working together to ensure the operation’s continued success and development.”

As it has continued to grow, most recently with the January 2015 acquisition of Lewis Fischer’s Maverick Publishing Company, Trinity Press has proven there is a solid niche for a small university press with a focus on quality over quantity. It receives some university support, but operates as a self-funded, independent business unit of the university. Its financials are not published.

“We have a very strong and financially stable program, and one that is strongly supported by the university,” Payton said in an interview this week. “Organizationally, we are under the umbrella of the university, but we do operate as our own business unit and as such we are responsible for our own revenues and expenses. We operate like a tightly run, well-organized nonprofit. The University does support the press, and is quick to acknowledge it receives great benefit for that.”

Payton joined forces with Ras in 2010 as her deputy and Trinity Press’ annual title publication quickly grew from 5-8 titles to 15-20 titles a year. There are now more than 200 titles in print since the first books were published under Ras in 2004. The press is best known for its works on the environment, nature, and landscape, although it is now publishing more titles on the built environment and urban design.

Early on, Ras landed acclaimed naturalist and environmental writer Barry Lopez, author of “Arctic Dreams and winner of the National Book Award. News that Trinity Press would host conservationist and anthropologist Jane Goodall in September led to a 17-minute online ticket frenzy after her appearance was announced. “The Encyclopedia of Trouble and Spaciousness by author Rebecca Solnit is the latest title at Trinity Press to attract both critical and popular attention.

Payton has 26 years of experience in the book business, including stints at the University of Georgia Press, Hill Street Press, the American Institute of Architects, and Oxford Bookstores.

“Tom has a distinguished career in publishing and brings a high level of skill and savvy related to overall trends in publishing, including developments on the digital side of the business,” Fischer said.

While noting the importance of attracting authors of national stature, Payton said he is proud of Trinity Press’ commitment to works celebrating San Antonio’s history and culture.

“We certainly have shored up our commitment to the community, its history and culture,” Payton said. “There was the acquisition of Maverick Publishing, moving some of those book to e-editions. That was a big acquisition for us. There is “Enchiladas” by local restauranteur and entrepreneur Cappy Lawton and food writer Chris Waters Dunn. We will be coming out with a book on 50 years of Cornyation, and a new edition of “San Antonio Uncovered by Mark Louis Rybczyk (with a Foreword by Robert Rivard) in March. We are working on no fewer than three projects with Lewis Fischer.”

*Top image: Recent and bestselling books from Trinity University Press. Courtesy photo.  

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Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard is co-founder and columnist at the San Antonio Report.