Next March marks the tenth anniversary of the bombing of Baghdad’s al-Mutanabbi Street, the city’s historic bookselling corridor. The “Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here” movement has started to organize readings on or about March 5, 2017:
When Beau Beausoleil, a Bay Area bookseller and poet, heard about the 2007 bombing that killed at least 30 and wounded many more, including many book-street regulars, he felt the connection immediately and viscerally.
Soon after, the “Mutanabbi Street Starts Here” movement was born: a movement of poets, booksellers, book artists, translators, academics, and readers. It has spawned a collection of poetry and prose of the same name, as well as traveling exhibitions of letterpress broadsides, prints, and other works.
Beausoleil says there is nothing special planned for the tenth anniversary, but rather the sorts of readings that have happened every year since the 2007 attack on Baghdad’s readers and booksellers. “They need not be big or small,” Beausoleil said over email, “they just need to happen. I’d like to see them everywhere people congregate: bus shelters, classrooms, cafes, libraries, bookstores, arts organizations, or in your kitchen or living room.”
The readings this year, he said, are as always a moment of solidarity with Iraqi people and their artists and writers, reminding us of what they face. “But I also see them now as a moment of solidarity for members of this project,” Beausoleil said, “where we can take stock of our own strength as writers and artists in the face of our own homegrown incipient fascism. Al-Mutanabbi Street holds the values of this project: free speech, the free exchange of ideas, and the equality that poetry, writing, and art inherently promise.”
The street is currently in a state of revival, as Iraqi poet and filmmaker Amal al-Jubouri and Hiwa Osman show in a short film that features the owner and manager of Baghdad’s Shahbander Cafe, where the bomb went off in 2007.
“Forgiveness breaks the enemy,” says cafe owner Mohammad al-Kahshali.
Beausoleil also hears good news from Al-Mutanabbi Street. The street even has a new woman bookseller, he said.
By March of next year, it will have been ten years since the bombing. How long is it possible to remember?
“Gilgamesh is close to four thousand years old,” Beausoleil said, “and I think the memory of the Arab Spring and its aftermath will last for as long as we need to remember it. I think that writers, artists, poets, translators, all have very long memories.”
“Personal memory reminds us of who we are and what we have experienced, cultural memory reminds us of who we are collectively and that memory goes back generation after generation until one reaches the creation stories,” Beausoleil said. “Memory is a comfort and a burden, a way to be both inside and outside your body at the same time.”
Beausoleil particularly called on translators to participate in next year’s Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here readings. Their work, he said, “is constantly journeying between cultures, constantly crossing the rough terrain of memory, thought, and emotion. I see translators as the welcome stranger at the table of the book that I am about to start reading. The strength of their invisibility never leaves my skin – The strength of their invisibility is present in each translated text that I read.”
The developing list: 10th Anniversary Readings For Al-Mutanabbi Street, On Or About March 5th 2017
1. In San Francisco, California On March 4th – The Poet Tamsin Smith Will Coordinate A Reading With Poets And Writers At Her Home.
2. In New Haven, Connecticut On March 5th – The Activist/Writer And Art Critic Stephen Kobasa Will Coordinate A Reading.
3. In Washington, D.C. On March 5th – The Poet/Educator Casey Smith Will Coordinate A Reading.
4. In Bristol, U.K. On March 5th – The Artist/Educator Sarah Bodman Will Coordinate A Reading
5. In Sydney, Australia On March 5th – The Artist/Activist Catherine Cartwright Will Coordinate A Reading
6. In Steamboat Springs, Colorado On March 5th – The Artist/Activist Janet Bradley Will Coordinate A Reading
7. In Saint Jerome, Quebec, Canada On March 1st – The Educator/Activist Elyse Dupras Will Coordinate A Reading At The College Where She Teaches.
8. In London, U.K. On March 5th – The Arab British Centre Will Coordinate A Reading
9. In Tucson, Arizona on March 5th – The Artist/Educator/Filmmaker/Curator Ozlem Ozgur Will Coordinate A Reading
10. In Berlin, Germany on March 5th – The Printer/Educator/Activist Andrew Morrison Will Coordinate A Reading With Students From The U.K.
Others interested in staging readings can post information below or contact Beausoleil at overlandbooks – at – earthlink.net.