Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here

On March 5th, 2007, a car bomb exploded on Al-Mutanabbi Street in Baghdad. Al-Mutanabbi Street is located in a mixed Shia-Sunni area, but one that welcomed and included all Iraqis of every faith. More than 30 people were killed and more than 100 wounded. Al-Mutanabbi Street, the historic center of Baghdad bookselling, holds bookstores and outdoor bookstalls, cafes, stationery shops, and even tea and tobacco shops. It has been the longstanding heart and soul of the Baghdad literary and intellectual community for centuries.

In response to the attack, poet and bookseller Beau Beausoleil rallied a community of artists and writers to produce a collection of letterpress-printed broadsides (poster-like works on paper), artists’ books (unique works of art in book form), and an anthology of writing, all focused on expressing solidarity with Iraqi booksellers, writers and readers. Within a year the project had grown from a local to an international scale. The coalition of contributing artists calls itself Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here Coalition.

This collection supports and promotes awareness to the important mission and framework of the Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here Coalition’s focus on the lasting power of the written word and the arts in support of the free expression of ideas, the preservation of shared cultural spaces, and the importance of responding to attacks, both overt and subtle, on artists, writers, and academics working under oppressive regimes or in zones of conflict despite the destruction of that literary/cultural content.

To date there have been four core responses to the project: 130 broadsides by letterpress artists, 260 artist books, 125 writers and poets have contributed to the anthology Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here and 210 original prints on the theme of Absence & Presence.

Over 500 artists, writers and poets from 25 countries have taken part so far.

Banner image: Dear Al-Mutanabbi Street 2012, Patricia Sarrafian Ward, USA


Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here Anthology

Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here

Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: PM PRESS (12 July 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1604865903
ISBN-13: 978-1604865905

On March 5th, 2007, a car bomb was exploded on al-Mutanabbi Street in Baghdad. More than thirty people were killed and more than one hundred were wounded. This locale is the historic center of Baghdad bookselling, a winding street filled with bookstores and outdoor book stalls. Named after the famed 10th century classical Arab poet al-Mutanabbi, it has been the heart and soul of the Baghdad literary and intellectual community. This anthology begins with a historical introduction to al-Mutanabbi Street and includes the writing of Iraqis as well as a wide swath of international poets and writers who were outraged by this attack.

Contributors include: Beau Beausoleil, Musa al-Musawi, Anthony Shadid, Mousa al-Naseri, Naomi Shihab Nye, Deena Metzger, Sam Hamod, Lutfiya Al-Dulaimi, Zaid Shlah, Persis Karim, Ayub Nuri, Marian Haddad, Sarah Browning, Eileen Grace O’Malley Callahan, Roger Sederat, Elline Lipkin, Esther Kamkar, Robert Perry, Gloria Collins, Brian Turner, Gloria Frym, Owen Hill, Abd al-Rahim, Salih al-Rahim, Yassin “The Narcicyst” Alsalman, Jose Luis Gutierrez, Sargon Boulus, Peter Money, Sinan Antoon, Muhammad al-Hamrani, Livia Soto, Janet Sternburg, Sam Hamill, Salah Al-Hamdani, Gail Sher, Dunya Mikhail, Irada Al Jabbouri, Dilara Cirit, Niamh MacFionnlaoich, Erica Goss, Daisy Zamora, George Evans, Steve Dickison, Maysoon Pachachi, Summer Brenner, Jen Hofer, Rijin Sahakian, Badr Shakir al-Sayyab, Jane Hirshfield, Jack Marshall, Susan Moon, Diana di Prima, Evelyn So, Nahrain Al-Mousawi, Ko Un, Joe Lamb, Katrina Rodabaugh, Mohammed Hayawi, Nazik Al-Malaika, Raya Asee, Gazar Hantoosh, Mark Abley, Majid Naficy, Lewis Buzbee, Ibn al-Utri, Thomas Christensen, Amy Gerstler, Genny Lim, Saadi Youssef, Judith Lyn Suttton, Josh Kun, Dana Teen Lomax, Etel Adnan, Bushra Al-Bustani, Marilyn Hacker, Richard Harrison, Fady Joudah, Philip Metres, Hayan Charara, Annie Finch, Kazim Ali, Deema K. Shehabi, Kenneth Wong, Elmaz Abinader, Habib Tengour, Khaled Mattawa, Rachida Madani, Amina Said, Alise Alousi, Sita Carboni, Fran Bourassa, Jabez W. Churchill, Daniela Elza, Linda Norton, Fred Norman, Bonnie Nish, Janet Rodney, Adrienne Rich, Cornelius Eady, Julie Bruck, Kwame Dawes, Ralph Angel, B.H. Fairchild, Terese Svoboda, Mahmoud Darwish, Amir el-Chidiac, Aram Saroyan, Sholeh Wolpe, Nathalie Handal, Azar Nafisi, Dima Hilal, Tony Kranz, Jordan Elgrably, devorah major, Suzy Malcolm, Ibrahim Nasrallah, Rick London, Sarah Menefee, Roberto Harrison, Fadhil Al-Azzawi, Amaranth Borsuk, Lamees Al-Ethari, Shayma’ al-Saqr, Meena Alexander, and Jim Natal.

Review of our anthology in Jadaliyya, Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here 

Artists’ Book Project 

In 2007, Beau Beausoleil’s ‘Call to Action for Letterpress Printers – Al-Mutanabbi Street Broadsides’ saw poets, writers and artists produce a series of letterpress printed broadsides in response. Sarah Bodman, Senior Research Fellow for Artists’ Books at UWE, Bristol, joined with Beau to help extend the call into Europe and further afield.

Please visit the UWE Book Arts website for full information:


Absence and Presence

The Al-Mutanabbi Street print project, Absence and Presence, turns to printmakers to further the rallying call first made to letterpress broadside artists and then to book artists. San Francisco Poet and Bookseller Beau Beausoleil initiated these projects to support the people of Al-Mutanabbi Street in Baghdad, where a car bomb tore through this ancient booksellers street. Each form that the project has taken has allowed the strengths of different media to express the human connections among those who value culture from around the globe.

For the printmaking part of this project Beau Beausoleil worked with coordinators from across the US, the UK and Australia. Artist and activist, Catherine Cartwright, is the UK Coordinator for Absence and Presence. Through their networks of fellow printmakers, the coordinators invited 210 participants. The number is significant as it is twice the number of those killed and injured in the attack of 2007. Through this network of artists a widely diverse group of printmakers has been assembled from Europe and the US, with additional artists from the Middle East, Asia and Australia. 

Each print is on a sheet size of 11 x 15 inches. Within those confines the artists have formulated their response to the attack. While the artists book format lends itself to an unfolding narrative, the print is a fixed rectangle. The challenge to the printmakers in this project has been to try to tell so much in one “scene”–the challenge of addressing the atrocity itself, the value of the book, the cultural interconnections between Iraq and the world.

Artists have drawn on their diverse life history as they struggled to crystalize their thoughts into one single image. Some have turned to the wider cultural background, exploring the ancient history of Iraq, or the relation between religious and secular culture, or simply the essential value of reading. To achieve these prints the artists have utilized a wide array of techniques, from woodcut to spit bite aquatint etching, from screenprints to prints pulled from the leather tooled cover of an old book. The technical range and the diversity of approaches makes for a strong body of work that speaks to this one horrible act, isolating and examining it, not letting it escape down the memory hole of atrocities brought about by the Iraq War and its aftermath.


Reading Under the Covers | 2014 | London, United Kingdom
Edition of 10, linocut


Censorship | 2014 | Bristol, United Kingdom
Edition of 5, etching

Absence and Presence at Spike Island

Absence and Presence – downloadable PDF


Al-Mutanabbi Street Broadsides: index.php

The broadsides project has been touring internationally since 2008, with associated readings and panel discussions. A complete set of 133 broadsides has been donated to the Iraq National Library in Baghdad.

Florida Atlantic University’s digital collection: “Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here” Broadsides collection brings this historic suite of 133 printed literary broadsides to South Florida. Each is truly a work of art. All are printed letterpress, usually from handset metal or wood type. Some feature original relief prints, some are printed on handmade paper; all are made with the passion of artists who have something to say. This historic Al-Mutanabbi Street Coalition project––one of only ten in the world––will remain at Florida Atlantic University Libraries, and will be permanently housed at the Arthur & Mata Jaffe Center for Book Arts, 3rd floor east of the Wimberly Library. Florida Atlantic University Libraries has digitized the full collection of broadsides by The Al-Mutanabbi Street Coalition. This digital collection now has a home on the Internet and may be viewed by people around the globe through the Jaffe Center for Book Arts website or through the FAU Digital Library website.

Remember the Future
Danny Flynn; 2009; Letterpress print
Printed by Danny Flynn, Middlesex University, London, England, 2009
Letterpress, Edition of 15. Held by Jaffe Center for the Book Arts, Florida Atlantic University Libraries

Nina Ardery

Books Not Bombs
Nina Ardery; Carillon Press; Letterpress print; 2008
Indianapolis, IN
Letterpress, Edition of 15, 2008. Held by Jaffe Center for the Book Arts, Florida Atlantic University Libraries.

Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here Bookmark Project 

This blog by poet Ama Bolton details the bookmark project that is a recent expression of Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here, an international coalition of more than 600 writers and artists who have made work reflecting on the bombing of the bookseller’s quarter of Baghdad in March 2007. UK-based poet/book artist/activist, Ama Bolton, is the UK Coordinator.


Image: Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here Project, Fine Arts Gallery, George Mason University School of Art, Fairfax, Virginia. Courtesy Nikki Brugnoli Whipkey.

Smithsonian Exhibit 2016

Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here DC 2016 was a book arts and cultural festival that commemorates the 2007 bombing of an historic book market in Baghdad, Iraq, with the goal of celebrating and educating the public on the value of the free exchange of ideas and knowledge,

Al-Mutanabbi Streets Start Here DC

Note that this exhibit was part of our 11 venue Washington D.C. area exhibit – After watching the video towards the bottom of the page please click on the link which will take you to another page with more links related to our project.

Smithsonian video with Arabic subtitles 
Arabic Literature (in English) 

Al-Mutanabbi Starts Here – Exhibition and Readings at the Arab British Centre, 2014.

On Friday 21 March 2014, The Arab British Centre hosted a group of extremely talented people to celebrate the life and soul of the project Al Mutanabbi Street Starts Here.

Exhibitions since the Al-Mutanabbi broadsides project has been touring internationally include:

The Westminster Reference Library, Westminster, UK; The Powell Library Rotunda, UCLA, Los Angeles, California, USA; Salt & Cedar Letterpress Studio, Detroit, Michigan, USA; The Cambridge Arts Council, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA; The Santa Fe University of Art and Design, Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA; The John Rylands Library, Manchester, UK; The San Francisco Center for the Book, San Francisco, California, USA; Gallery Route One, Point Reyes, California USA; the Center for Book Arts, New York in association with Alwan for the Arts, Columbia University Libraries Butler Library, International Print Center New, Poets House, New York, USA; Literary & Philosophical Society Library, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK; Collins Memorial Library, University of Puget Sound, Tacoma, Washington, USA; Curry College, Milton, Massachusetts, USA; American University in Cairo, Egypt; Arab – British Centre, London, UK; The Mosaic Rooms, London, UK; Kate Chappell ’83 Center for Book Arts at the University Of Southern Maine, USA; The Hague Public Library, The Netherlands; Queen Elizabeth II Library, Memorial University, St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada; Jaffe Center for Books Arts, Florida Atlantic University, USA; Central Library of Rochester and Monroe County, Rochester, New York, USA; Goddard College, Vermont, USA; Arab American National Museum, Dearborn/Detroit, Michigan, USA; Idaho Center for the Book in partnership with The Arts and Humanities Institute at Boise State University, USA; George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia, USA, and Herron School of Art and Design, The Herron Art Library of IUPUI University library, USA; Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C, USA; The
San Francisco Zen Center, San Francisco, California, USA.

In 2012 a portfolio of 130 Letterpress Broadsides created for Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here, were shipped to the Iraq National Library in Baghdad, Iraq and were welcomed into their permanent archive by the library Director Dr. Saad Eskander. The shipping of these broadsides was made possible by the poet/educator/activist Casey Smith, along with the expert art packing abilities of Ken Ashton. A few months
later a number of broadsides were exhibited at a literary festival near al-Mutanabbi Street in Baghdad, Iraq.

Additional links

As part of our yearly global readings for al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here, we helped inspire, with the aid of the poet/activist Amal Al-Jubouri and her Soutuna Project, a series of readings across Iraq as reported on here:

Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here is a project to commemorate the bombing of the street of music, arts and books in Baghdad. This piece was commissioned for the project and performed here by the students of SFUAD’s Contemporary Music Program in Santa Fe, NM.

Above image credit:
Bloodstained Pages
Printed by Grendl Lofkvist and Dave Stevenson
Cloven Hoof Press & Inkworks Press