On March 5th 2007, at the bloody midpoint of the Iraq war, a car bomb exploded on al-Mutanabbi Street in Baghdad. The attack tore through the heart of the city’s historic literary district, a block crammed with cafés and bookstores. The Shahbandar coffeehouse, a meeting place for generations of Iraqi writers and intellectuals, was blown to pieces; the owner’s four sons and one grandson were killed. Thirty people died and 100 were wounded in the blast, for which no group ever claimed responsibility.
A world away, a San Francisco bookseller read about the attack in his morning paper. Beau Beausoleil, a poet and proprietor of the Great Overland Book Company, a second-hand book store, waited for the outpouring of support and outrage that would surely follow. Nothing happened. Mr Beausoleil felt compelled to act. An attack on writers and booksellers anywhere in the world was an attack on them all.
So he began an art and writing project called “Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here”, to express solidarity with Iraqi booksellers, writers and readers. The project started with a first wave of letterpress-printed broadsides responding to the attack and has evolved over five years to include an anthology of writing, published in August, and 260 artists’ books—unique works of art in book form—from contributors all over the world.