Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here

Related Expertise: Power to Convene
Date Initiated: 2016

In March 2007, a car bomb detonated on Al-Mutanabbi Street in Baghdad, ripping through the thousand-year-old book market and killing several dozen people, injuring hundreds, and decimating a traditional center for literacy and debate in Iraq’s capital city.

In response, writers, artists and book lovers began writing poems and creating hundreds of artists’ books, prints, posters, and paper art pieces to show support for and solidarity with the ancient culture of literacy in Iraq and the broader Arab world. That evolved into “Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here DC 2016,” a city-wide book arts and cultural festival, hosted in part by Smithsonian Libraries.

By bringing disparate audiences together through poetry readings, translation workshops, film screenings, and exhibits of diverse and beautifully crafted artists’ books and prints, including an exhibition by American artists at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery Library and a commemorative reading at the museums’ Nan Tucker McEvoy Auditorium, the festival sought to foster conversation about the importance of free exchange of ideas and the protection of cultural expression. 

Learn more about this Project

The Courage of Words: Celebrating Al-Mutanabbi Street and the Free Exchange of Ideas