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Baghdad's Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here: A Reading of Prose and Poetry

Monday, March 4, 2019 - 7:00pm

Al-Mutanabbi Street in Baghdad is a winding street about one thousand feet long, noted for its many bookstores and outdoor book stalls. Named after the famous classical Arab poet Abu at-Tayyib al-Mutanabbi (915–965 bce), it has been a thriving center of Baghdad’s bookselling and publishing for many years. On March 5, 2007, a car bomb was exploded on it, perhaps to intimidate intellectuals. More than thirty people were killed, and more than one hundred were wounded—booksellers, book buyers, and devotees of reading and of books—and the Shabandar Café where intellectuals met was gutted. Beau Beausoleil, a poet and San Francisco bookseller, created in solidarity a coalition of poets, artists, writers, printers, booksellers, and readers; broadsides of their writings and artwork about this tragic event were printed, and recitations were made in many cities.

"You can bomb a bookstore or ban / a book, but it will not die. You cannot kill / a poem like you can a man. / Al-Mutanabbi Street will rise again” (Sam Hamill). “The books blew up and people, / cafés and stores; but words remained, / hovering, circled, waiting” (George Evans).

On March 6th 2007, at the 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. The twelfth anniversary is March 6, 2019. On March 4, we will honor those who died by turning our attention on the current situation in Iraq, and our hopes for a better future. Poets and prose writers will address the past and point to the future.

Beau Beausoleil wanted to do something to bring attention to this tragedy. The first project was a series of broadside poems written by those in and out of Iraq. Later, art books were created, and the most recent iteration is a series of art photographs honoring intellectuals who've been executed in Iraq in recent years. This reading continues the tradition of honoring the tragedy and drawing attention to the continued plight of Iraqis.

Sammer Abu AlRagheb was born and raised in Amman, Jordan, and has lived in Santa Cruz, California, for the last 17 years. He moved to the States in pursuit of his love for Heavy Metal & Classical music, and he is a classical guitar player. After a decade or so in music, his attention turned towards filmmaking, and he has since worked on independent shorts and commercials, and now he's a film student at UCSC working on his Master's in Film, and hopefully PhD in Film as well. He is also a screenwriter and is currently working on a dramatic short, in hopes to direct it himself in the near future.

Beau Beausoleil is a long time San Francisco poet, he is the author of 12 books of poetry, the most recent being, The Long Distance, published by Moving Parts Press in Santa Cruz, California. He founded The Al-Mutanabbi Street Coalition in 2007 as an arts response to the car bombing of al-Mutanabbi Street (the street of the booksellers) in Baghdad, Iraq. The project currently includes approximately 600 artists and writers from twenty countries.

Jameel al-Jameel was born in 1990, in Nineveh, Iraq. He graduated from the University of Mosul, and is the founder of the Baghdadi Literary Forum. He is widely published, and has participated in numerous human rights programs, and workshops on social cohesion, peaceful coexistence and peace building.

Helene Simkin Jara is an actor, director and writer.  She has been published in The Porter Gulch ReviewLa Revista, Mindprints, Phren-Z and Nerve Cowboy. She won “Best Prose” (2003) for “Josefina,” (2009) for FUBMC and (2011) for “Vat Means Rad?” in The Porter Gulch Review.  She was twice a finalist for Glimmertrain and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2007 for “The Difference.”  She published a book called Because I Had To which is available on She is currently hoping to publish two non-fiction books, one about dolls and a memoir about artist modeling and a collection of short stories.

Geneffa Popatia Jonker has taught English at Cabrillo College for almost 20 years, focusing on international writers and topics. She is the founder of the Salaam Initiative, which hosts events to raise awareness and create camaraderie for members of the Cabrillo community from Middle Eastern, Muslim, and South Asian backgrounds. Born in the UK and raised in Canada by parents of Indian heritage and African nationality, Geneffa allows her diverse background to infuse and inform her teaching and writing.

Magdalena Montagne has been a facilitator of poetry writing workshops for over two decades and currently holds Community Poetry Circles at Santa Cruz Libraries three times a month. She is also the founder of WisdomVerse, a year of poetry writing curriculum that she shares with elders in assisted living facilities in Santa Cruz, Monterey and Santa Clara Counties. Her first collection of poems, Earth, My Witness is forthcoming from Many Names Press in winter 2019.

Felicia Rice is a book and performance artist, typographer and letterpress printer, publisher, and educator. She has collaborated with artists and writers under the Moving Parts Press imprint since 1977. Work from the Press has been included in exhibitions from New York to Frankfurt. Her books are held in library and museum collections worldwide and she has been the recipient of many awards and grants from the NEA to the French Ministry of Culture.

David Allen Sullivan’s books include: Strong-Armed Angels, Every Seed of the Pomegranate, a book of co-translation with Abbas Kadhim from the Arabic of Iraqi Adnan Al-Sayegh, Bombs Have Not Breakfasted Yet, and Black Ice. He won the Mary Ballard Chapbook poetry prize for Take Wing, and his book of poems about the year he spent as a Fulbright lecturer in China, Seed Shell Ash, is forthcoming from Salmon Press. He teaches at Cabrillo College, where he edits the Porter Gulch Review with his students, and lives in Santa Cruz with his family.


This free event will take place at Bookshop Santa Cruz. Chairs for opens seating are usually set up about an hour before the event begins. If you have any ADA accommodation requests, please e-mail by March 3rd.