Sara Rosen

Sara Rosen

Miss Rosen is the Senior Vice President of Marketing at powerHouse Books, Executive Director of The powerHouse Arena, and Editor of powerHouse Magazine. What’s more, she has her own imprint specializing in urban culture, Miss Rosen Editions, a dynamic line of titles that impart startlingly hardcore stories through the medium of photography.

A natural risk-taker, creative innovator, and vivacious inspirer of minds—Miss Rosen was Project Manager for Autograf: New York City’s Graffiti Writers by Peter Sutherland, and has collaborated with the likes of Boogie, Charlie Ahearn, and Claw Money—her exquisite élan and formidable savoir faire have helped to establish the independent New York publisher as not only a redefining force in the industry, but a shaper of the contemporary.

Despite the critical-acclaim, commercial-success, and heightening world-renown for powerHouse, it is with the nurturing of fresh talent and in sharpening the cutting edge where Miss Rosen sits most comfortably; wearing sneakers and lycra-blend fabrics, mainly.

“I’ve come to realize, it’s not like I spot the bestselling projects. But that these books get into the right hands, if only a couple thousand of them, means new directions can be spun out of each and every one of them.”

Format: I recently read an intriguing piece in AdWeek citing powerHouse Books as a leading figure in the Renaissance Generation, along with companies like Google and Reebok who aim to fuse together action and product, culture and object, experience and concept. Can you speak more about this new trend in marketing and how it applies to what you are doing as a company?
MR: Marketing is a four-letter word. And though I took me a good eight years to figure out what it meant, the more I learn, the more I want to redefine the consumer experience. A writer from the Telegraph recently asked me, “Where do you hang out?” and I said, “Here,” meaning The powerHouse Arena, our 10,000 square foot office, gallery, and boutique in the DUMBO section of Brooklyn. And he was like, “No, when you’re not working,” to which I told him, “But I’m always working. Which is why I throw events here. Otherwise I’d never meet anyone.”

I guess, in many ways, I’m just creating the thing I want: to be, to own, to live, to love. I have so completely integrated the personal with the professional that when someone asked me last night at Boogie’s opening reception what I do for fun (as many people often do when I describe the hours I work) I was taken by their inability to see IT: total integration. Immersion. Fusion.

Fusion is what I seek at powerHouse: bringing together people from all walks of life to celebrate a culture or creation that honors our collective existence; and to destroy that formal wall between art and experience, between the object and the spectator. It pains me to say this, but I am a populist. Damn it! I always wanted to be an elitist, but it turns out, I’m not. For me, art and literature are essential to my daily life. I want our books to infiltrate the status quo, to shake things up by sharing the unknown, and validate our shared experience. I like to open dialogue and inspire new ideas—and the only way that is possible is from the ground up.

The RenGen (Renaissance Generation) story was totally unexpected; I actually called the author to get more information about it. And as we spoke, as much about art history as marketing, the more I came to see that what we have created here is something more than a product. Which is funny, because I’ve always felt powerHouse was this entity outside of me and the people who worked for it; it was a place and space where anyone could contribute, so long as their intent was positive and their aims authentic.

Sara Rosen

Format: I read in the powerHouse Magazine, which you edit, that you began as Marketing Director, but didn’t have a clue what that meant, having studied art history and journalism. Now, eight years later, can you provide insight into what that M word means to you?
MR: If I had to explain it, I would say marketing requires counter-intuition. It’s the idea that you never know who or what is coming around the next corner, and you can never discount anyone’s experience on this earth or assume how they might connect to you and what you do.

When I joined powerHouse in March 2000, we were working on a book called Afghanistan Diary: 1992–2000, and it was all about this radical Islamic group, the Taliban. Couldn’t have sold that story to anyone with a thousand dollars. A year and a half later, the media and the public were mad for anything about these people: who are they; why are they; what do they do.

An unfortunate irony of America is, it only seems to matter when it directly impacts your life. And I’d like to think it might matter in its own right, independent of its relationship to you. And from that I draw my ideas about marketing. It’s not about selling, or promoting, or publicizing: it’s about communicating human experience from one end of the globe to the other. I mean, I have press contacts in Bulgaria. Not like I have distribution, nah. But why not spread the word? There might just be one person in Bulgaria who cares.

Sara Rosen

Format: powerHouse Books is known for its diverse catalogue of titles, representing the full spectrum of human experience. How does a company such as yours, one that is a small independent publishing house, determine what sorts of projects to publish?
MR: We go with what we know and what we never knew but need to learn. Be it Child Soldiers or B-Girls, we seek projects that provide a combination of intellectual command, aesthetic excellence, and jaw-dropping originality. We are drawn to artists that investigate little known subcultures, or have incomparable access to a place and a time far from our own and yet feel familiar in their investigation of the human condition. Whether famous, infamous, or straight up anonymous, the people we encounter in these images offer an unfettered glimpse into their lives.

Where other publishing houses line up seasonal programmes with titles that easily fit into categories—one gay book, one travel book, two fashion books, and an interior design book—our projects tend to be so obscure we make up brand new bookstore categories for them. Things you will never see at your local Borders or Barnes & Noble include Wrong-Side-of-the-Tracks Studies (Hamburger Eyes); Fresh Style (The Breaks); Mullet-Haired Mall Portraiture (Too Fast for Love); and Bummy Sophisticates (Public Access), to name but a few.

“Fusion is what I seek at powerHouse: bringing together people from all walks of life to celebrate a culture or creation that honors our collective existence; and to destroy that formal wall between art and experience, between the object and the spectator.”

Format: Urban culture projects have launched the powerHouse brand into another stratosphere, allowing you to build partnerships with everyone from Capitol Records and the Beastie Boys to VH1 for Hip Hop Honors Week. Why are projects like these succeeding in such a big way, and do you see a tie-in with the current explosion of urban fiction as a genre? Do you see this as an indicator of a shift in both art and literature?
MW: For people such as myself, who were raised on Grandmaster Flash, schooled on Eric B. and Rakim, and got a degree at Wu Tang university, the music, style, and DIY vibe of hip-hop carry far beyond the speakers. And while the music, videos, and clothes reach the masses, the culture continues to inspire local trends and elicit investigation into its history. It’s almost too much for me to have the opportunity to work with the pioneers of the era who were documenting the scene in its infancy like Martha Cooper and Charlie Ahearn; to do events with the likes of Kool DJ Red Alert, Grandmaster Caz, Grand Wizzard Theodore, Rich Medina. To interview Afrika Bambaattaa was like spending an hour with the Buddha…..

I remember at the Wild Style 25th Anniversary party, Caz was on the mic and he said, “This is history y’all”—and I got chills. It was clear these books and events and exhibitions offer an opportunity unlike any other. There’s no red carpet, no blonde with a clipboard, no noses in the air; real people doin’ real things.

Urban fiction is a fascinating development in the book trade, which is so staid and conservative it’s any wonder our books get out there at all. To see these crazy titles getting play goes to show: power to the people. I interviewed Teri Woods and was blown away. She sold books out the back of her car and took an entire genre this far. That was what, not even ten years ago? And it wasn’t like anyone sitting up in the offices got what was going on in the streets until the streets made it clear, there was a hardcore market right down here. And I must admit, I’ve gotten a bit addicted. It’s just like my interminable admiration for Jackie Collins: I love killer bitches.

But that aside, I cannot predict directions in art or culture. Whatever is happening, I have no clue. I only know what I publish, or exhibit, really, since I spend all my time in the office or with my nose in a book. Don’t get me started on Agatha Christie; you might find out I’m a little obsessive. I’ve come to realize, it’s not like I spot the bestselling projects. But that these books get into the right hands, if only a couple thousand of them, means new directions can be spun out of each and every one of them.

Sara Rosen

Format: You have your own imprint, Miss Rosen Editions, which you describe as specializing in urban culture. What is your vision of urban culture? Is it just hip-hop or is it bigger than that, and how does one differentiate a powerHouse title from a Miss Rosen title?
MR: Urban culture is the streets. What comes up and goes down on the streets, be it the mean streets of drug-infested Brooklyn of Boogie’s It’s All Good, or the timeless vibe of Martha Cooper’s New York State of Mind. This year I’m dong the South Bronx in the 80s (Lisa Kahane) and the streets of Serbia (Boogie)—but I’m also doing a book on American teenagers with Danielle Levitt, which is the ultimate antidote to urban culture. Because I’ve got to keep things fresh, I like to flip it with subversive yet silly things like public urination or teddy bear vivisection. As my favorite ad of all time said, “Expect the Unexpected” (Charivari).

Format: Looking ahead, it seems that powerHouse are starting to publish more text-based titles, from the likes of Danny Lyon, John Gruen, and Patti Astor; is this something we can expect more of, and what other evolutions and divergences are there in store?
MR: Fiction! I just signed up our first powerHouse novel for Spring 2009: the love child of Charles Bukowski and Brett Easton Ellis I like to call it. What is it? A new Miss Rosen Edition…..

More Info:

Sara Rosen

Photo Credits
Cover Photos, Photograph © Joe Conzo: James TOP interviews Miss Rosen at The powerHouse Arena, Brooklyn, 2007

It’s All Good: Photographs by Boogie, A Miss Rosen Edition, published by powerHouse Books (2006)

New York State of Mind: Photographs by Martha Cooper, A Miss Rosen Edition, published by powerHouse Books (2007)

Bears: Photographs by Kent Rogowski, A Miss Rosen Edition, published by powerHouse Books (2007)

Bombshell: The Life and Crimes of Claw Money, A Miss Rosen Edition, published by powerHouse Books (2007)

Giancarlo Zingaro

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