Anne Tannahill

Pioneering publisher with Belfast's Blackstaff Press

Editor and publisher Anne Tannahill’s contribution to cultural life and literature in Northern Ireland is most evident in the sterling work she performed as Managing Director of the Belfast-based Blackstaff Press from 1981-2003.

Regarded as one of Ireland's leading publishers, Blackstaff have published well over 650 titles, ranging from works dealing with local history and political comment, to poetry, humour and fiction. Blackstaff favours work mainly, but not exclusively, of local interest.

As Managing Director, Tannahill worked to develop the Blackstaff titles. In 1992, the judges of the Christopher Ewart-Biggs Memorial Prize recognized her efforts by awarding Blackstaff with a Special Citation for 'producing books which have genuinely added to a greater understanding between the peoples of Ireland and Britain'.

In 1992, Blackstaff was named UK Small Publisher of the Year by the Sunday Times, and also won an AIB Better Ireland Award. Titles published during this period include The Sound of Drums by Patrick Shea, Once Upon the Lagan by May Blair and The Road to the Somme by Philip Orr.

Tannahill helped shape Blackstaff’s liberal ethos and dedication to providing an important platform for writers and artists in Northern Ireland who may not otherwise find an outlet for their work.

She has recently posted on the website of the Society of Publishers of Ireland (www.the-spi.com) about her experiences in the publishing industry.

‘The great upsurge of new companies in the 1970s generated a cadre of young, energetic and often idealistic publishers. Some of us had little or no experience and a fair amount of wheels were reinvented simply because we hadn’t inherited settled ways of doing things...

‘The result was, for a decade or so, a very coherent industry of people who knew, liked and trusted each other, willing to co-operate on joint initiatives at home and abroad. What happened? Recriminations apart, perhaps the simplest explanation is that we grew apart as we developed our lists and our companies, took on more staff, got more and more bogged down in desk-work …

'What can we retrieve? At the very least, an active social programme that once again allows publishing people to get to know, like and trust each other. Once you have that, who knows what might follow?’