Recreating Baghdad’s Lost Literary Street

Named for a tenth-century poet and revolutionary who lived in what is now Iraq, Al-Mutanabbi Street in Baghdad was the center of the city’s intellectual and literary life. It was home to booksellers, stationery stores, antiquarian bookstores, and cafes as famous for the ideas that flowed freely as for their pungent coffee.

In 2007, a car bomb exploded on Al-Mutanabbi Street, killing 30 and injuring another 100. Residents of Baghdad felt it as not just another attack but a strike against the richness of Iraqi literary history and against the free exchange of ideas and openness of thought. Books and papers lay scattered and charred beside the corpses on Al-Mutanabbi Street that day in March.

Beau Beausoleil, an American poet and bookseller based in San Francisco, was inspired to act. He created the Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here project because “I felt this connection between Al-Mutanabbi Street and here, and myself, on a visceral level. If I were an Iraqi, a bookseller, a poet, I would be on that street. I felt we needed some sort of response [to the bombing] from our own arts community.”

More about this project including work by Other Room reader Tina Darragh, can be found at the Foreign Policy in Focus site.

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