Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here DC 2016

Area -Wide Book Arts and Cultural Festival in Solidarity with People of Iraq Coming to DC Area January-March 2016

A diverse coalition of DC-area universities and arts and literary organizations will present Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here DC 2016, a book arts and cultural festival planned for January through March 2016, throughout the Washington, DC, area. Exhibits, programs, and events will commemorate the 2007 bombing of Baghdad’s historic bookselling street, celebrate the free exchange of ideas and knowledge, and stand in solidarity with the people of Iraq. The centerpiece of the festival is a poetry reading, with music, on the anniversary of the bombing, March 5, 2016, at the Smithsonian American Art Museum McEvoy auditorium.

Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here DC 2016 will have multiple components:

Exhibits & Artist Talks: Exhibitions of artwork created in response to the bombing will be featured at multiple venues, including the George Mason University School of Art Gallery and the Fenwick Library, Gelman Library and the Corcoran School of Art and Design at The George Washington University, the Brentwood Arts Exchange, Smith Center for Healing and the Arts, McLean Project for the Arts, Olly Olly Gallery, and the Smithsonian Museum of American Art Library. (Detailed listings below.)

Literary Programs: Poets, translators, and critics will give readings, translation workshops, and talks, bringing the poetry of the Arab and Muslim worlds to DC-area audiences. The diverse line-up includes Kareem James Abu-Zeid, Amal Al-Jubouri, Hala Alyan, Fatimah Asghar, Safia Elhillo, Beau Beausoleil, Fady Joudah, Amal Kassir, Philip J. Metres III, Dunya Mikhail, M Lynx Qualey, and Sholeh Wolpé (bios below).

Artist Workshops: artists Michael Rakowitz and Sas Colby, along with noted calligraphers, printmakers and papermakers at George Mason University, will give hands-on workshops.

Street Festival: A street festival is being planned for Saturday, March 19, engaging residents of Washington, DC, in artmaking, poetry readings, music and food, and book exchanges, in celebration of the spirit of Baghdad’s Al-Mutanabbi Street.

Film Festival: Brentwood Arts Exchange will host a series of films from Iraq and the Arab and Muslim worlds with follow-up conversations.

Background: 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 5th, 2007, a car bomb exploded on Al-Mutanabbi Street, killing 30 and injuring 100 and destroying many bookselling businesses as well as the historic Shabandar Café, where intellectuals had met for generations. 

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.

Partners: George Mason University’s School of Art and Fenwick Library, Split This Rock, Smith Center for Healing and the Arts, McLean Project for the Arts, Corcoran School of the Arts and Design at The George Washington University, Busboys and Poets, Georgetown University, Cultural DC, Smithsonian Libraries, Brentwood Arts Exchange, Northern Virginia Community College, George Mason University Student Media and Fourth Estate Newspaper.

Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here DC 2016 is made possible in part by grants from the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the DC Commission on the Arts & Humanities.

Further information is available at

For all media enquiries, including images and interview requests, please contact Helen Frederick at

Literary Programming

Ninth Annual Commemorative Reading

Distinguished poets and 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.

Featured poets and speakers: Amal Al-Jubouri, Beau Beausoleil, Dunya Mikhail
Saturday March 5, 6 – 8 pm
A reception and book signings will follow the reading.
Smithsonian American Art Museum

McEvoy Auditorium
800 G Street NW
Washington, DC 20001


Kareem James Abu-Zeid is an Egyptian American translator of poets and novelists from across the Arab world, and also works as a freelance translator of German and French texts. He recently translated Dunya Mikhail’s The Iraqi Nights and Nothing More to Lose by Palestinian poet Najwan Darwish.

Amal Al-Jubouri is an Iraqi poet, activist, and human rights lawyer. She is the founder and CEO of the Arab Human Rights Academy, an NGO based in London, and, an online TV station based in Iraq. She has published a number of poetic works and films, including the award-winning Hagar Before the Occupation, Hagar After the Occupation.

 Hala Alyan is a Palestinian American poet and clinical psychologist whose work has appeared in numerous journals including The Missouri Review, Prairie Schooner, and Columbia Poetry Review. She is the author of ATRIUM (Three Rooms Press), winner of the Arab American Book Award in Poetry, and FOUR CITIES (Black Lawrence Press). Her latest collection, HIJRA, was recently selected as a winner of the 2015 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry and will be published by Southern Illinois University Press.

Fatimah Asghar is a nationally touring poet, photographer and performer. She created Bosnia and Herzegovina’s first Spoken Word Poetry group, REFLEKS, while on a Fulbright studying theater in post-violent contexts. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in POETRY Magazine, PEN Poetry Series, The Paris-American, The Margins, and Gulf Coast. She is a Kundiman Fellow and a member of the Dark Noise Collective. Her chapbook After was released on Yes Yes Books in 2015.

Safia Elhillo is Sudanese by way of Washington, DC. A Cave Canem fellow and a poetry editor at Kinfolks Quarterly: a journal of black expression, she received an MFA in poetry at the New School. Safia was joint winner of the 2015 Brunel University African Poetry Prize. Her work appears in the anthologies The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop and Again I Wait for This to Pull Apart. Safia has performed at venues such as TEDxNewYork, the South African State Theatre, and the New Amsterdam Theater on Broadway.

Beau Beuasoleil is founder of the Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here coalition, and a San Francisco poet and bookseller. His latest book is Concealed in Language. He has authored ten books of poetry, including the anthology Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here, edited with Deema Shahibi.

Fady Joudah’s debut collection of poetry, The Earth in the Attic (2008), won the 2007 Yale Series of Younger Poets competition and was a finalist for ForeWord’s Book of the Year Award. Joudah followed his second book of poetry is Alight (2013) with the ebook Textu (2013), a collection of poems written on a cell phone that are exactly 160 characters long. Joudah translated the final three collections of Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish’s work in The Butterfly’s Burden (2006), which won Banipal prize from the UK and was a finalist for the PEN Award for Poetry in Translation. His translation of Ghassan Zaqtan’s Like a Straw Bird It Follows Me (2012) won the Griffin International Poetry Prize in 2013. Joudah lives with his family in Houston, where he works as a physician

Amal Kassir is a young Syrian-American spoken word poet who has performed at universities and on stages throughout the country. She was a member of Denver’s 2012 youth slam team, which took top honors at the Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Slam Festival that year.

Philip J. Metres III is an award-winning American poet, translator, scholar, and activist. His most recent poetry books include Sand Opera and A Concordance of Leaves. He has published in literary journals, magazines and anthologies including PoetryNew England Review, Best American PoetryThe New American Poetry of EngagementWith Our Eyes Wide Open: and Inclined to Speak: Contemporary Arab American Poetry (2008). Metres’ honors include two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, two Arab American Book Awards in poetry, a Creative Workforce Fellowship.

Dunya Mikhail is the author of The Iraqi Nights (New Directions, 2014); The War Works Hard (New Directions, 2005), shortlisted for the Griffin Prize and named one of “Twenty-Five Books to Remember from 2005” by the New York Public Library; and Diary of A Wave Outside the Sea (New Directions, 2009) which won the 2010 Arab American Book Award. Her honors also include the UN Human Rights Award for Freedom of Writing (2001) and Kresge Artist Fellowship (2013).

M Lynx Qualey is a literary critic, journalist, and editor who publishes regularly in The Guardian, Al Jazeera, Qantara, and elsewhere, and who maintains the daily e-magazine Arabic Literature (in English), which covers the world of Arabic literature and translation.

Sholeh Wolpé is a poet, playwright, and literary translator. She was born in Iran and spent most of her teen years in Trinidad and the UK before settling in the United States. She is the recipient of the 2014 PEN/Heim, 2013 Midwest Book Award, and other prizes. Wolpé is the author of three collections of poetry and three books of translations, and is the editor of three anthologies. Her translation of The Conference of the Birds, by Iran’s 12th Century mystic poet, Attar, is forthcoming from W.W. Norton in 2017.


An Inventory of Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here
Michael Rakowitz: The invisible enemy should not exist
George Mason University

School of Art Gallery
4400 University Drive

Fairfax, VA 22030

January 20 – March 5
Reception January 28, 5:30-7:30 pm

The night and the desert know me –
Iraqi and American artists respond to Iraqi poetry from ancient to contemporary times
Smith Center for Healing and the Arts

1632 U Street, NW

Washington, DC 20009

January 15 – March 30
Reception January 15, 7-9 pm

Come Together: American Artists Respond to Al-Mutanabbi Street
Smithsonian AA/PG Library

750 9th Street NW, Room 2100
Washington, DC 20001

February 1 – March 30
​Reception February 4, 5-7 pm

Selections from the AMSSH inventory
Georgetown Lauinger Memorial Library

Georgetown University
3700 O Street, NW
Washington, DC 20057
March 1 Poet’s Lecture and one night showing of artist books

Embracing the Power of Artistic Practice

Olly Olly Gallery

10417 Main St., 2nd Floor

Fairfax, VA 22030

January 23 – February 27
Reception January 23, 7-10 pm

Artists’ Books from the Fenwick Library Collection and the Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here Inventory
George Mason University

Fenwick Library
10417 Main Street, Second Floor
​Fairfax, VA 22030

January 23 – March 3
Reception January 28, 4:30-7 pm

Absence and Presence
McLean Project for the Arts
1234 Ingleside Ave.

McLean, VA 22101

January 14 – March 5
Reception January 14, 7-9 pm

Selections from Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here DC 2016
Brentwood Arts Exchange
3901 Rhode Island Ave.
Brentwood, MD 20722

January 18 – March 12
Reception January 21, 5–8 pm