Council Oak Carves New Niche in Book Publishing/hightower, Partners Publish 9 Books in 2 Years in Tulsa; Book Clubs Select 3

Article excerpt

Michael Hightower was searching for a new career direction early in 1984, when he read an article about two women, Dr. Sally Dennison and Paulette Millichap, who were interested in starting a publishing company.

Hightower was chairman of the history department at Holland Hall School in Tulsa, and he had written articles for the Chronicles of Oklahoma as well as news reports for The Daily Oklahoman. Somehow, he felt he could do more.

He had opportunities to return to Oklahoma City, where his parents, Frank and Dannie Bea Hightower, are well known, but he had chosen to see how far he could go strictly on his own in his own way.

Dennison had authored a book, and Millichap had written short fiction, but they needed funds to start a publishing firm. Michael Hightower was able to help raise $93,500 with a limited partnership offering.

That was the start of what is now Council Oak Publishing Co. Inc., a Tulsa firm that has established a remarkable foothold in an industry primarily centered in New York. This has been accomplished by marketing books mostly in the Southwest, though this area has been devastated by a five-year energy slump.

Hightower, Dennison and Millichap have "created a viable publishing house'' with a gross income of $146,380 in 1986, primarily on sales of five books. Four more books will be published this year.

Three books have been chosen for book clubs, and two have received awards. One is being considered for a movie.

"By building on its track record,'' said Hightower in a business plan on the firm, "Council Oak has the potential of becoming a highly respectable and profitable company, and perhaps even a model for new businesses in Oklahoma.''

At the same time, Council Oak is utilizing Oklahoma resources for much of its production, including design, art work and typesetting. The firm is headquartered in an old home and takes its name from the "council oak tree" that stands near the heart of Tulsa.

Of the first five books, the most successful in terms of sales has been "Cleora's Kitchens,'' a delightful collection of recipes from Cleora Butler, a black woman who was a legendary cook for wealthy families in Tulsa. It is in its second printing. Roughly 15,000 copies have been sold nationwide.

It was chosen by Better Homes and Gardens Book Club as a bonus selection for the fall of 1986.

The first book of Council Oak was "Prairie City,'' a reprinting of Angie Debo's on the life of Indians and pioneers in a small Oklahoma town - chosen by the History Book Club.

"White Knuckles Log,'' a tale of a sailboat journey from Tulsa to the sea on inland waterways by Don McAlpine of Oklahoma City, was chosen for the Dolphin Book Club division of the Book of the Month Club.

Others were "The Art of Showing Art'' by James K. Reeve (nearly sold out) and "Back to the Damn Soil'' a humorous autobiography that was hailed by the Washington Post. It is by Mary and Nick Gubser.

One of the 1987 books is "Kiss the Son,'' a novel that is set in Oklahoma City and being considered for a movie. It is about a world of drugs and sex games that produced a violently disturbed 15-year old boy.

Others are "Libby,'' the story of a woman who lived on a remote Pribilof island in the Arctic Sea; "The Silver DeSoto'' by Patty Lou Floyd of Duncan, and "Ballad of Another Time,'' a novel that won Mexico's Xavier Villaurrutia prize, and was co-sponsored by the University of Tulsa for translation.

"We hope it will be the first of a series on significant foreign books,'' said Hightower.

In most cases, the books come from manuscripts that are submitted daily to the Council Oak office.

"We get six to eight most days,'' said Hightower. "It is the job of our managing editor, Ann Weisman, to see that the manuscripts are read. …