Al-Mutanabi Street is the historic center of the book universe in Iraq’s capital city of Baghdad. It is a street lined with booksellers and has served as the intellectual and literary hub of the city since the 8th century.
Now it has its first women bookseller, 22-year old Ruqaya Fawziya.
Speaking of her new endeavor she says:
In the beginning not only my family, anyone I would speak to about my idea to sell books at Al-Mutanabi Street, would oppose the idea, describing it as strange, and advising me not to do it, but later, when they saw me entering this world, they started encouraging me
I didn’t face any harassment from the people who visit Al-Mutanabi Street, but sometimes people look at me with a surprise look on their faces because they are not familiar with the sight of a woman selling books on the street. But there are many people who, on the contrary, encourage me
Fawziya has had good luck at Al-Mutanabi Street. She first met her husband there three years ago during a gathering for the “I am an Iraqi, I read ” reading initiative.
Oh and about that marriage. There was a dowry involved:
500 books to be given immediately and 1000 books in case of divorce!
You might also remember that Al Mutanabbi Street was the scene of a horrific car bomb attack in 2007 that killed 27 people and prompted worldwide outrage.
One of the most powerful responses to the carnage was the wildly successful book art project Al Mutanabbi Street Starts Here which began as as a way for a California bookseller to show his solidarity with Iraqi booksellers, writers and readers. Starting as letterpress broadside project Al Mutanabbi Street Starts Here soon began receiving bookworks from artists from all over the world, 260 in all, and grew into an touring exhibition.