In Appreciation of Elaine Maisner: Kathleen Purvis

Executive editor Elaine Maisner retired last week after 28 years working at UNC Press.

The following guest blog post is by Kathleen Purvis, award-winning food writer, food editor for the Charlotte Observer, and the author of three UNC Press books: Distilling the South, Bourbon, and Pecans.

Elaine Maisner is a literary ninja. A stealth fighter jet of editors. You’ll never see her coming.

Don’t let that quiet smile, those serious eyes and that scary-deep intellect fool you. She’s competitive, ruthless in pursuit of a good idea, and as protective as a hissing cat where her writers and her business are concerned.

When Elaine is your editor, you won’t be coddled. You won’t be stroked. What you will be is deftly guided, deeply heard, and led to doing something better than you thought you could.

Every time I think I have her pinned down, I find out something I never suspected – and was never told by Elaine herself. Did you know she worked for Deborah Madison at Green’s in San Francisco? Did you know she was a baker at the legendary Ninth Street Bakery? Did you know she dreams, not of teaching yoga, but of teaching yoga teachers?

That teaching thing is what divides Elaine from the hundreds of battered editors I’ve left in my wake. Some editors come at you with vague ideas, half-baked missions and the dread of long, painful edits ahead. Elaine is a front-end loader: Before you put fingers to keyboard, she will have talked you through exactly what she wants. There’s a comfort and a simplicity to that, permission to work with the confidence of knowing she will never waste your time.

Her work with the “Savor the South” series is legend: Just a little book series, she told me. A dozen slim volumes on Southern ingredients. It grew to 25 books, an omnibus that made authors out of a whole crowd of us, an extended book family that covers the “what” of the South in a way that made experts of us all.

Over three books, that’s the Elaine I’ve gotten to know: A steely-eyed book warrior, determined to seed the world with knowledge that’s there because she believed it should be there. And she believes in you completely.

I never saw her coming. And now, I can’t imagine her gone.