Wednesday, September 19, 2012

"Cairo writes, Beirut publishes, Baghdad reads."

Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here

     "It was a summer day in 2003, when Iraq was still filled with the half-truths of occupation and liberation, before its nihilistic descent into carnage. Mohammed Hawayi, a bald bear of a man, stood in his shop, the Renaissance Bookstore, along Baghdad's storied al-Mutanabbi Street . . . .

A car bomb detonated last week on al-Mutanabbi Street, leaving a scene that has grown familiar in Baghdad, a collage of chaotic images, disturbing in their brutality, grotesque in their repetition. At least 26 people were killed. Hawayi the bookseller was one of them." -ANTHONY SHADID
Washington Post, March 12, 2007

Anthony Shadid died in Syria in February 2012 while working as a foreign correspondent for the New York Times.

Shadid's reporting from Baghdad is the first essay in AL-MUTANABBI STREET STARTS HERE, the new anthology of prose and poetry edited by Beau Beausoleil and Deema Shehabi, just published by PM Press.

The list of contributors to this anthology includes Naomi Shihab Nye, Meena Alexander, Kenneth Wong, Diane di Prima, Lewis Buzbee, Josh Kun, Mahmoud Darwish, Etel Adnan, Kazim Ali, Adrienne Rich, Cornelius Eady, Amy Gerstler, Azar Nafisi, Owen Hill, Susan Moon, Dana Teen Lomax, and Summer Brenner, the editor-at-large who invited me to contribute. 

Thanks to Julie Allen, my colleague in The Bancroft Library, for bringing some of her favorite contributions to my attention (see Gazar Hantoosh's "Destinies" and Dima Hilal's "The Sudden Cessation of Electricity").

I look forward to reading everything in this anthology.

        From the book:

     "For part of my life, I worked as a bookseller on al-Mutanabbi Street. In the early 1990s, I was well known for buying the libraries of writers who were besieged by hunger because of the
sanctions . . . "
From "Escape from al-Mutanabbi Street" 
     by Muhammad al-Hamrani

"The six men, all relatives,
were hunting for a teenager's remains. The boy had been
shopping for notebooks on al-Mutanabbi Street, named
for a tenth-century poet. They had been digging since
Wednesday, morning till night."

From "March 9, 2007 Al-Mutanabbi Street, Baghdad" 
     by Julie Bruck

     "For so many Iraqis, books have always been like the food of life. If you can't get them, you starve, and al-Mutanabbi Street is where you came for nourishment."

From "The River Turned Black with Ink" 
     by Maysoon Pachacki

Collection of al-Mutanabbi Street Broadsides
Jaffe Library, Florida Atlantic University

The broadsides commissioned by Beau Beausoleil for this project are now part of library collections around the world. Thanks to him for his untiring efforts toward peace and understanding, and for bringing us all together.

1 comment:

  1. Azar Nafisi quotes Nabokov in her contribution to this volume: "Curiosity is insubordination in its purest form." Read her essay to see why it's important to have places (like Mutanabbi St. in Baghdad) where books by Nabokov, Twain, Nafisi, Said, Thoreau, Darwish, Emily Dickinson, communists, radical clerics, and Arab poets sit "side-by-side."