Interview: Ed Renehan of New Street Communications

After reading H.R. Stoneback’s essay on Paris from New Street Communications, I wanted to learn a little bit more about where the Kindle book I downloaded was conceptualized.
New Street Communications was begun by Ed Renehan in June of 2010. As stated on the website:

New Street develops, publishes and distributes superior works of non-fiction.

Following are some questions I asked Mr. Renehan about his publishing venture.

MDC: As I ask anyone I interview, what books are most important to you? In other words, which books do you want to reread in the future?

EJR: There are several authors to whom I always return. Hemingway is one. Dickens another. Also Thoreau. As well, I have an odd addiction to a somewhat obscure book entitled The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst by Nicholas Tomalin and Ron Hall, about the 1969 Sunday London Times single-handed round-the-world race for the Golden Globe. I read this book at least twice a year. The story is gripping, and the story-telling is quite beautifully done.

MDC: Naming of a new venture is always paramount. How did you come up with the name New Street Communications?

EJR: “New Street” is the street on Long Island, near New York City, where my wife and I had our very first house and started our family. The connotation for us is very positive, loaded with tender memories and good vibrations. Good karma. So, that’s a large part of it. Also, my highest profile job in the world of New York publishing was as Director of Computer Publishing Programs for a firm called Newbridge Communications (at that time a subsidiary of PriMedia); so, for people in the industry, there is also that echo.

MDC: The logo for a new venture is important as well. Is the picture of the house your house in Rhode Island?
EJR: Actually that little logo is inspired by our tiny first house on New Street, a very modest 1878 farmhouse now surrounded for the most part by far grander homes in a relatively affluent suburb.

MDC: Obviously, you are much attuned to technology and how the book publishing world and increased technology are merging and you want to be at the forefront. But do you still enjoy browsing in bookstores and settling down to read an old-fashioned book? I only ask this because I find myself more and more dependent on my Kindle and notebook to enhance my reading experience by more highlighting, note taking, and quick access to research the subject matter.

EJR: I actually do most of my reading (and book buying) on Kindle. This is in large measure, of course, due to my affinity for the medium. On a more practical level, however, our house here near Newport, RI is PACKED with several decades’ accumulation of physical books, and we just don’t have room for more. But those walls of well-thumbed bound books? Yes, I love them.

MDC: Your site states that your books are free of DRM. What is DRM?

EJR: DRM = Digital Rights Management software. This is software meant to inhibit the pirating of eBooks. The thing is, it is routinely very clumsy and inconvenient for purchasers to navigate. Also, it is easily rooted and therefore not even effective against piracy. Many of the hipper players in eBooks are simply dispensing with it, and letting people know that they are dispensing with it, as the absence of DRM has some sales appeal. There is a pretty good discussion of details on Wikipedia.

MDC: I like your corporate mantra of “Work smart, be kind.” Any kind of mantra helps with creativity, in my opinion. Wouldn’t we all be better served by putting some effort into both parts of New Street’s mantra?

EJR: I think so. What is positive in a corporate culture is bound also to be a positive in the culture generally.

MDC: That’s a beautiful picture on the cover of A Christmas Carol. Who is the artist that created the wintry scene of the Seine and Notre Dame? How did you discover this artist?

EJR: The artist is Tavík František Šimon, a Czech who lived many years in Paris. The painting is Notre Dame de Paris in Winter, 1921. The artist died in 1942. I’ve been aware of him for a long time, ever since the 70’s when Mary Hemingway told me that Ernest had a nodding acquaintance with Šimon in Paris, and that he liked his work.

MDC: I am enjoying the related music and links provided on New Street’s site. I had forgotten how much I enjoyed Three Dog Night’s rendition of “Black and White.” It’s good to know the history of the song. The latest book published by New Street is a reissue of the children’s classic of Black and White by David Arkin. How did this reissue come to fruition for New Street?

EJR: David Arkin, who died in 1980, was a very talented artist but also a very talented lyricist. In 1956, he and the composer Earl Robinson wrote this great song “Black and White” to celebrate the Supreme Court decision from two years before outlawing segregation in the nation’s public schools. Pete Seeger – who has written an Introduction for our new edition of David’s book – recorded the song in 1956, and Sammy Davis Jr. one year later. Then finally, in 1972, the band Three Dog Night had a #1 hit with the song in the United States. This is the version everyone knows best. Six years before the Three Dog Night recording, in 1966, David took the lyrics and illustrated them to create a wonderful children’s book, which we’ve now re-released. The project came to me through David’s three children – the actor Alan Arkin and his sister Bonnie Cordova and brother Robert – who wanted to see their father’s work available once more and who approached me directly with a request that I make it happen. Happily, I was able to involve Seeger, who is another old friend, and we were off to the races.

MDC: Ed, I also like how you are combining your work with charity since royalties from the sale of Black and White are going to the Central Asia Institute. Can you talk about what this means to you?

EJR: The idea to designate royalties to the Central Asia Institute (CAI) came from the Arkins themselves, specifically Bonnie Arkin Cordova, who read and was greatly influenced by Greg Mortenson’s Three Cups of Tea. I think the designation is more than appropriate. Black and White sprang from the fight to gain equal educational opportunities for people of color in the United States. The CAI, in turn, focuses on promoting community-based education, especially for girls, in remote regions of northern Pakistan and Afghanistan, where equal educational opportunities for females is by no means a part of the cultural tradition.

MDC: Can you provide some hints of some upcoming New Street projects?

EJR: Yes. I’ve just signed a very major work of J.D. Salinger scholarship which we’ll have out by autumn, and about which I’m very excited. Currently (early March 2011) I’m doing the final edits on Cloud Computing Explained, the first in our New Street Executive Summary Series. We’ve also recently signed an exercise and diet book that has great promise, and we’ve a number of other things in the works in both the literary and tech/business sides of our publishing program.

MDC: Thank you so much, Ed, for taking the time in answering these questions. I know I will be downloading some more interesting books from New Street in the near future.
Also, if you would like to purchase some logo gear related to New Street Communications, click HERE.