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
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
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
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
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
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
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