Title image: "I want to be a prophet" by Raphael Vella
What is Al-Mutanabbi Street?
The project takes its name from and examines al-Mutanabbi Street in Baghdad, a winding street about one thousand feet long, noted for its many bookstores and outdoor bookstalls where people gathered as a great humanitarian center. Named after the famous classical Arab poet Abu at-Tayyib al-Mutanabbi (915–965 CE), it has been a thriving center of Baghdad’s bookselling and publishing for many years. On March 5, 2007, a bomb went off in the centuries old Al Mutanabbi Street book sellers district in Baghdad. The explosion took the lives of thirty people and destroyed a large portion of the neighborhood. The book sellers, who survived, rebuilt their stores and are once again in business. They sell works by Sunnis, Shiites, Christians, and Jews, children's books, and progressive publications from around the world.
Through the efforts of Beau Beausoleil, a poet and San Francisco bookseller, a coalition of poets, artists, writers, printers, booksellers, and readers was created within a short time of the bombing; broadsides of their writings and artwork about this tragic event were printed, and recitations were made in many cities. An anthology was published to honor the cultural achievements of a society that has been forever damaged and to acknowledge that art and visual literacy could support the Iraqi population and others where free expression is threatened.
In a violent world where the destruction of venerable sites is all too common, the destruction of al-Mutanabbi Street in 2007 evoked outrage worldwide because it made evident the vulnerability of the living culture of the book. The DC partners are building upon the original response of the al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here programming to engage the public in discussing and learning from questions such as why are books and printed words powerful as intellectual agency? Why are books essential to freedom of thought and expression and able to affect every culture especially in the electronic age?
Ninth Annual Commemorative Reading
Saturday March 5, 6 - 8 pm
Smithsonian American Art Museum, McEvoy Auditorium
800 G Street NW
Washington, DC 20001
Distinguished poets Amal Al-Jubouri, Dunya Mikhail, and Beau Beausoleil, as well as translators, musicians and speakers will commemorate the 2007 bombing of Baghdad's historic book selling street, to celebrate the free exchange of ideas and knowledge and stand in solidarity with the people of Iraq and everywhere where freedom of expression is threatened. A reception and book signings will follow the reading. Click here to learn more. This event is free, but RSVPs are strongly encouraged. Please click here to reserve a seat. Photos of this event are here.
Arabic Poetry Translation Contest
Split This Rock invites submissions of English translations of Arabic poetry. $500 will be awarded for the best English translation of an Arabic poem on the themes of social justice or freedom of expression. Winning poems will be published on Split This Rock's website and within The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database. The contest will be judged by Fady Joudah, whose poetry and poetry translations (from the Arabic) have received the Yale Series of Younger Poets, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Griffin International poetry prize, a PEN USA award among others. Alight and Textu are his most recent collections. Textu is a sequence of short poems composed on cell phone where meter is character count. Guidelines for submission can be found here.
From Beau Beausoleil, Founder:
"This project seeks to show where al-Mutanabbi Street starts in all of us: personally, in our communities, and in our nations. It seeks to show the commonality between this small street in Baghdad bombed in March 2007, and our own cultural centers, and why this attack was an attack on us all. This project sees al-Mutanabbi Street as a place for the free exchange of ideas; a place that has long offered its sanctuary to the complete spectrum of Iraqi voices. This is where the roots of democracy (in the best sense of the word) took hold hundreds of years ago."
From Helen Frederick, DC Project Coordinator:
"As an artist, organizer, and professor at George Mason University’s School of Art (SOA) I value the collaborative academic and professional community focused on advancing creativity through traditional and new media applied to varying social contexts. The SOA is founded on the premise that art both reflects and inspires a creative society, improving the human condition while describing the world, both as it is and could be. We focus on the role of artists in that conversation. We encourage students to see art both as individual expression and public interaction. We celebrate historical reference, current relevance, experimentation – emphasizing innovative ways of thinking that enhance the impact of art on the future of society.
I personally am immersed in this project to support freedom of expression through the arts, to help share and foster dialogue and positive ideas about the Middle East, and everywhere where the free exchange of ideas is threatened rather than embodied as a human right.
Washington DC’s population has always been engaged within changing public cultural spaces in which individual work and activities are mapped, performed, exhibited and collectively created; and discussed within social, behavioral and ecological aspects of their living communities. This project calls upon memory and experience in various activities that will facilitate many interpretations and multiple cultural meanings. It will focus on connecting the participants through that which they know to that which they do not know. It will forge links with others across generations and locally, nationally and internationally, erase biases, and support voices that cannot be heard."
For more information, please contact Helen Frederick, Project Coordinator.