THE BLOG
11/05/2013 02:32 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here -- What Will Be Your First Step?

Recently the Collins Memorial Library at the University of Puget Sound hosted a visit by San Francisco poet and bookseller Beau Beausoleil. Beau is the founder of the Al-Mutanabbi Street Coalition. The Coalition consists of hundreds of book artists and letterpress printers around the world that are working together to rebuild the inventory lost during the March 5, 2007, bombing of the street of booksellers in Baghdad. Like so many of us, Beau was outraged when he read about the bombing of this intellectual center in the city. As a poet and a bookseller, Beau recognized that Al-Mutanabbi Street would have been his home, and sought to raise awareness and to promote the role of the artist in social activism and the commonality between Al-Mutanabbi Street and any street that holds a bookstore, library, university, or arts organization. He connected with letterpress printers, first in the Bay area, and as the interest grew, he expanded his reach and collaborated with Sarah Bodman to gather support from artists worldwide. Sarah is Senior Research Fellow for Artists' Books at the Centre for Fine Print Research, University of the West of England. This project now includes more than 500 artists representing more than 20 countries. Portions of the collection of unique books and broadsides are being exhibited in this country and abroad, and since mid-August, the Collins Library has had the honor of exhibiting more than 50 pieces from the inventory of Al-Mutanabbi Street. Each piece offers a unique, personal and emotive response to this tragedy that took the lives of so many and destroyed a center of intellectual creativity in Baghdad.

Many student and community groups have visited the exhibit and a few weeks ago the Collins Memorial Library hosted a panel with Beau and two artists whose work is represented in the project: Bonnie Thompson Norman and Laura Russell. The venue was packed. The room was hot and students were sitting on the floor but no one complained. The conversation was serious, yet inspiring. Beau demonstrated that one person can really make a difference. Beau and members of the Coalition sent a powerful message to students -- the importance of finding your voice and speaking out. Sometimes in the midst of the overwhelming complexity of modern life, it is difficult to think of how we might make a difference, how our voices can be heard. Beau's project means so much on so many levels -- but it also provides the opportunity to reflect on how each one of us can take a step on the street!

At the University of Puget Sound, librarians Ben Tucker and Eli Gandour-Rood are working on a presentation titled If you see something say something, dealing with how the concept of microagression can be addressed in the workplace. Librarian Lori Ricigliano, along with colleagues at Puget Sound, is coordinating a shared reading of the book, 35 Dumb Things Well-Intended People Say, by Dr. Maura Cullen, to enhance communication and awareness in support of an inclusive work environment. At the University of Cincinnati, UC Libraries recently hosted a panel presentation aptly titled, Gays Gone By. The panel featured UC alumni, Powell Grant, who in the 1970s fought to have gay and lesbian students recognized as legitimate campus groups.

Al-Mutanabbi Street represents all streets where ideas and intellectual discourse take place. In Beau's words, "this project will not end." Future plans call for a permanent home at the Herron School of Art Library, IUPUI and a conference dedicated to the spirit of Al-Mutanabbi.

We urge you to consider how you might support and contribute to the project that connects us to communities around the world and fosters awareness and understanding.