UNC Press Editor-in-Chief David Perry is proud to say he has been a Tar Heel all his life. “I grew up knowing I wanted to go to Carolina,” said Perry, whose parents attended UNC and lived in Victory Village when he was born — in Duke Hospital, since Chapel Hill had no hospital then. “The University has been a big part of my family story since the 1940s.”
After growing up and attending high school in Asheville, Perry applied to only one university: UNC. He arrived in 1966 on a Morehead Scholarship and never left. He first worked at UNC Press in 1976, running a phototypesetting machine, and joined the Press fulltime in 1979. In March he will retire after 34 years on the job.
“For as long as most of us can remember, David Perry has been the public face of UNC Press,” said UNC Press Director John Sherer. “But his enormous impact on the UNC community and the state of North Carolina pales in comparison to the impact he’s had within the Press. I know I share the sentiments of everyone at the Press when I say I am lucky to have worked with him, and the Press is immeasurably a better institution because of his contributions here.”
Perry, who focuses on history, southern studies, Civil War and military history, and regional general interest books, takes a hands-on approach with his authors.
“I always think of my job as facing in two directions,” Perry said. “I’m representing to the author the fifty people here who do the work of preparing the book for publication. But I’m also coming to share in and take on the understandings and expectations of the author regarding the book and communicating those to my colleagues at the Press.”
During more than three decades on staff, Perry has seen the Press change dramatically, going from a small operation in Bynum Hall to a business that now employs more than 50 people in a building on the edge of campus.
“We talk much about change in the production and dissemination of books,” Perry said. “But the core idea that animates our work has not changed—connecting scholars who are doing original, difference-making work with their audiences. . . . We have an important role in the university in sharing the results of faculty research with other scholars and students. And we have a great role in the state and beyond by helping to connect the work of the academy to a wider public.”
Perry is confident that the future is bright for UNC Press, but he said retirement is still bittersweet.
“I talk to people about their ideas now and I’m very energized by that,” Perry said, “but I know that I won’t be in this chair when those books are published.”
With almost five decades in Chapel Hill and even longer family connections, Perry—who once was babysat by Andy Griffith—is truly a “Tar Heel born and bred”—a North Carolinian through-and-through whose commitment to and passion for this school and this state are represented in the hundreds of books he has deftly guided to publication.