James Connolly has worn a number of different hats in his publishing career, most recently as publisher of the books division of University Games of San Francisco, which followed his time as CEO and publisher of Bay/Soma Books, but it didn’t take long for him to make the move to Council Oak Books after talking earlier this fall with the inventor and entrepreneur Maurice Kanbar, who has been Council Oak’s sole owner for about a decade. Connolly had known Kanbar, and when he asked Connolly to take the reins of the publisher, Connolly said everything fell into place. “They have a good backlist and good recognition in the trade,” Connolly said of Council Oak, although he acknowledged that the house, which did three titles in the spring, has been moribund over the past year.
He hopes to cure that by moving Council Oak from Tulsa, Okla., to the San Francisco Bay area and signing a distribution deal with PGW. Connolly doesn’t expect any of Council Oak’s small staff to join him in California, so the first order of business is staffing up, something that will entail hiring freelancers and some back-office help. Connolly will keep Council Oak focused on its core areas, which include titles on Native Americans, health, feminism, and spirituality. “I’ll take what they’ve done and push it forward,” Connolly said, adding that he plans to return Council Oak to the cookbook field—in that category, Cleora’s Kitchens, still in print after being released in 1985, was one of Council Oak’s first two books.
Council Oak has an active backlist of about 125 titles. Connolly plans on publishing three new titles next spring; depending on how they do, he could release as many as 12 titles for the full year. The three titles for spring are Pan Am: An Aviation Legend by Barnaby Conrad III, Sinsemilla Bootlegger by Paul Kalman, and Hemingway’s France—Images of the Lost Generation by Winston Conrad. In addition to setting up Council Oak in new quarters, Connolly said his early efforts will focus on “letting the market know that [Council Oak] is still here with some fresh blood and new wares.”