Al-Mutanabbi Street starts here at the library
By KATHRYN STUTZ
Out of the ashes, Al-Mutanabbi Street shall rise once more.
On March 5, 2007, a car bomb devastated a street lined with bookstores and booksellers in Baghdad. Once a great center of intellectual and cultural thought, named after a brilliant Arabic poet of the 10th century, Al-Mutanabbi Street was reduced to yet another smoking symbol of the violent political unrest in the Middle East.
However, the historical significance of this particular target for members of the literary world did not go unacknowledged.
“In response to the bombing, Beau Beausoleil, a poet and book artist, formed the Al-Mutanabbi Street Coalition: a group of book artists working to help rebuild some of the cultural material that was lost on Al-Mutanabbi Street,” read the Puget Sound promotional posters for the collection.
Currently on display in the Collins Memorial Library lobby, many beautiful books of colorful visual art, calligraphy and poetry —in Arabic and English, as well as a number of other languages—from the diverse exhibition stand testament to the resiliency of the intellectual spirit.
As the international creative community responded to the tragedy with their message about the enduring importance of the written word, so too have the citizens of Baghdad rebounded: booksellers are returning to Al-Mutanabbi Street, and the famous Shabandar Café has reopened its doors.
Now, one set of each of the books in Beausoleil’s intricate exhibit travels around the world to universities and centers of learning, while another complete set of the books has been donated to the Iraq National Library in Baghdad.
When Collins Memorial Library director Jane Carlin heard about the collection, she said she was “personally so convinced it would be a wonderful addition to the spirit of social justice here at Puget Sound,” that she contacted the organization about ensuring that one of their exhibit’s stops would be at our university.
Beau Beausoleil himself will be coming to campus to host two events on the topic of the collection he created.
As part of the event, there will be a screening and discussion of the documentary film Our Feelings Took the Pictures: Open Shutters Iraq, a different form of creative expression that was submitted to the Al-Mutanabbi Street Coalition and which also discusses the internal ‘rebuilding’ from the destructive effects of war.
The film will be shown in the WSC Rotunda on Oct. 15, at 7:30 p.m, with a discussion hosted by Beausoleil to follow.
On Oct. 16, at 7 p.m. in Collins Library, Beausoleil will lead a conversation about the Al-Mutanabbi Street Coalition and its members’ actions as both artists and social activists.
“The books are meant to represent not only the events that happened, but the opportunity to rebuild,” Beausoleil said in the introduction of the anthology he edited, Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here.
Indeed, though many of the works display the harsh reality of living in a city torn by war and disunity, other works are ultimately hopeful that a culture of ideas and freedom of thought will prevail.
“We all share the belief that books are the holders of memories, dreams, and ideas,” Beausoleil said.
According to Beausoleil, the goal of the collection was “to try to close the distance between Al-Mutanabbi Street and similar ‘cultural streets’ here and around the globe.”
Beausoleil, originally a bookseller in San Francisco, felt a connection to the people working, reading and living on Al-Mutanabbi street on the day of the bombing.
In July of 2010, he put out a call for writers and artists to submit their work to the collection then named “An Inventory of Al-Mutanabbi Street,” which now consists of a number of literary legacies in the form of the published anthology Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here and the individual permanent and traveling exhibits.
A terrible day in 2007 took away lives and intellectual unity on Al-Mutanabbi street; now, a brave bookseller has given a little bit of that vitality back.
More information about the event: www.pugetsound.edu/news-and-events/campus-news/details/1207/
Additional information about the exhibit: www.al-mutanabbistreetstartshere-boston.com/