Word on the Street

News about New England books and authors

"Make Books Not War" by Sarah Bodman.
"Make Books Not War" by Sarah Bodman.

Words and images of peace

“Make Books Not War” sounds sensible enough, doesn’t it? Sarah Bodman, a printer in the United Kingdom, put the message on a poster that’s part of a new exhibit making stops around the world. Her command neatly sums up the impulse behind a global artists’ campaign to never forget the car bomb that in 2007 destroyed the heart of Baghdad’s booksellers row.

In the years following the devastation, artists have taken up pens, paint, and paper to remind the rest of us that the right to a free exchange of ideas in a public space should never be taken for granted. In three exhibits over the next six months, the Cambridge Arts Council will display all 261 artists’ books and broadsides that make up “Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here: A Response to Violence in Iraq From the Letterpress and Book Arts Community.”

In the middle of last month nearly 75 people jammed the gallery at Cambridge’s City Hall Annex for the opening reception. Two former residents of Iraq who addressed the crowd said al-Mutanabbi Street was always a favorite stop on their visits to Baghdad.


Darin Murphy, a librarian at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts who oversees its collection of artists’ books, spoke about the power of the handmade book. “An artist’s book can cut to the chase,” he said.

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Brookline artist Laurie Alpert created a scroll instead of a bound book. It joins the image of a soldier with lines from the great Arabic poet al-Mutanabbi and music from “Iraqi Peace Song.”

Pieces of burned books were incorporated in an eerie work. Another artist created a poem by editing a news report about a father holding his son’s shoe and digging through the debris looking for the other one.

Cambridge artist Laura Blacklow created a pop-up book that speaks to what unites Iraqis and Americans. The artists’ books are displayed in sealed glass cases, but if you call ahead to arrange a time, it’s possible to page through the less fragile ones. The gallery in City Hall Annex, on the corner of Inman Street and Broadway, is closed on weekends but it’s open on Mondays until 8 p.m. The final “Al-Mutanabbi” exhibit ends July 21. To find out about related events, visit

Poetry even at Harvard Bookstore

Boston native Nick Flynn and two fellow travelers on Graywolf Press’s inaugural poetry tour will pull into Harvard Bookstore at 7 Wednesday evening. The small Minneapolis publisher is hoping to capitalize on recognition it gained last year when one of its books, Tracy K. Smith’s “Life on Mars,” won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.


It promises to be an evening of varied moods. Some of Flynn’s poems draw on reports of torture from Abu Ghraib while Mary Szybist explores issues of religion and identity, and Dobby Gibson meditates on everyday realities.

Coming out

 “The Imposter Bride”by Nancy Richler (St. Martin’s)

 “Literary Rogues:A Scandalous History of Wayward Authors” by Andrew Shaffer (Harper)

 “Pukka’s Promise: The Quest for Longer-Lived Dogs” by Ted Kerasote (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Pick of the Week

Ellen Burns of Books on the Common in Ridgefield, Conn., recommends “The Love Song of Jonny Valentine” by Teddy Wayne (Free Press): “In this bittersweet, frank, and funny take on modern celebrity, Jonny is a pop phenomenon whose every move is managed by his mother who has problems with drugs and men. Haunted by the memory of his missing father, Jonny is both wise and appallingly naïve as he deals with his newfound fame and the business of pop music.”

Jan Gardner can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @JanLGardner.