Kahlil Gibran

Kahlil Gibran (/dʒɪˈbrɑːn/;[1] Full Arabic name Gibran Khalil Gibran, sometimes spelled Khalil;[a] Arabic: جبران خليل جبران‎‎ / ALA-LC

Born: Jan 6, 1883-Died: April 10, 1931

Kahlil Gibran was a Lebanese-American artist, poet, and writer of the New York Pen League.

Gibran was born in the town of Bsharri in the Mount Lebanon Mutasarrifate, Ottoman Empire (north of modern-day Lebanon), to Khalil Gibran and Kamila   Gibran (Rahmeh). As a young man Gibran immigrated with his family to the United States, where he studied art and began his literary career, writing in both English and Arabic. In the Arab world, Gibran is regarded as a literary and political rebel. His romantic style was at the heart of a renaissance in modern Arabic literature, especially prose poetry, breaking away from the classical school. In Lebanon, he is still celebrated as a literary hero.

He is chiefly known in the English-speaking world for his 1923 book The Prophet, an early example of inspirational fiction including a series of philosophical essays written in poetic English prose. The book sold well despite a cool critical reception, gaining popularity in the 1930s and again especially in the 1960s counterculture. BGibran is the third best-selling poet of all time, behind Shakespeare and Laozi.

EARLY YEARS

Gibran was born into a Maronite Catholic family from the historical town of Bsharri in northern Mount Lebanon, then a semi-autonomous part of the Ottoman Empire.  His mother, Kamila, daughter of a priest, was thirty when he was born; his father, Khalil, was her third husband.  As a result of his family’s poverty, Gibran received no formal schooling during his youth in Lebanon.  However, priests visited him regularly and taught him about the Bible and the Arabic language (Lebanese Arabic).
Gibran’s father initially worked in an apothecary, but with gambling debts he was unable to pay, he went to work for a local Ottoman-appointed administrator.

Around 1891, extensive complaints by angry subjects led to the administrator being removed and his staff being investigated.  Gibran’s father was imprisoned for embezzlement, and his family’s property was confiscated by the authorities. Kamila Gibran decided to follow her brother to the United States. Although Gibran’s father was released in 1894, Kamila remained resolved and left for New York on June 25, 1895, taking Khalil, his younger sisters Mariana and Sultana, and his elder half-brother Peter (in Arabic, Butrus).

Gibran was born into a Maronite Catholic family from the historical town of Bsharri in northern Mount Lebanon, then a semi-autonomous part of the Ottoman Empire.  His mother, Kamila, daughter of a priest, was thirty when he was born; his father, Khalil, was her third husband.  As a result of his family’s poverty, Gibran received no formal schooling during his youth in Lebanon. However, priests visited him regularly and taught him about the Bible and the Arabic language (Lebanese Arabic).

Kahlil Gibran’s home in Bsharri, Lebanon

Gibran’s father initially worked in an apothecary, but with gambling debts he was unable to pay, he went to work for a local Ottoman-appointed administrator.

Around 1891, extensive complaints by angry subjects led to the administrator being removed and his staff being investigated. Gibran’s father was imprisoned for embezzlement, and his family’s property was confiscated by the authorities. Kamila Gibran decided to follow her brother to the United States. Although Gibran’s father was released in 1894, Kamila remained resolved and left for New York on June 25, 1895, taking Khalil, his younger sisters Mariana and Sultana, and his elder half-brother Peter (in Arabic, Bustrus)

The Gibrans settled in Boston’s South End, at the time the second-largest Syrian-Lebanese-American community in the United States. Due to a mistake at school, he was registered as “Kahlil Gibran”.

His mother began working as a seamstress peddler, selling lace and linens that she carried from door to door. Gibran started school on September 30, 1895. School officials placed him in a special class for immigrants to learn English. Gibran also enrolled in an art school at a nearby settlement house. Through his teachers there, he was introduced to the avant-garde Boston artist, photographer, and publisher Fred Holland Day, who encouraged and supported Gibran in his creative endeavors. A publisher used some of Gibran’s drawings for book covers in 1898.

Gibran’s mother, along with his elder brother Peter, wanted him to absorb more of his own heritage rather than just the Western aesthetic culture he was attracted to.  Thus, at the age of fifteen, Gibran returned to his homeland to study at a Maronite-run preparatory school and higher-education institute in Beirut, called “al-Hikma” (The Wisdom). He started a student literary magazine with a classmate and was elected “college poet”. He stayed there for several years before returning to Boston in 1902, coming through Ellis Island (a second time) on May 10. Two weeks before he returned to Boston, his sister Sultana died of tuberculosis at the age of 14. The year after, Peter died of the same disease and his mother died of cancer. His sister Marianna supported Gibran and herself by working at a dressmaker’s shop.


GROWING FAME

Gibran was an accomplished artist, especially in drawing and watercolor, having attended art school in Paris from 1908 to 1910, pursuing a symbolist and romantic style over the then up-and-coming realism.[citation needed] Gibran held his first art exhibition of his drawings in 1904 in Boston, at Day’s studio. During this exhibition, Gibran met Mary Elizabeth Haskell, a respected headmistress ten years his senior. The two formed an important friendship that lasted the rest of Gibran’s life. The nature of their romantic relationship remains obscure; while some biographers assert the two were lovers but never married because Haskell’s family objected, other evidence suggests that their relationship never was physically consummated.

Haskell later married another man, but then she continued to support Gibran financially and to use her influence to advance his career.  She became his editor, and introduced him to Charlotte Teller, a journalist, and Emilie Michel (Micheline), a French teacher, who accepted to pose for him as a model and became close friends.   In 1908, Gibran went to study art in Paris for two years. While there he met his art study partner and lifelong friend Youssef Howayek.

While most of Gibran’s early writings were in Arabic, most of his work published after 1918 was in English. His first book for the publishing company Alfred A. Knopf, in 1918, was The Madman, a slim volume of aphorisms and parables written in biblical cadence somewhere between poetry and prose. Gibran also took part in the New York Pen League, also known as the “immigrant poets” (al-mahjar), alongside important Lebanese-American authors such as Ameen Rihani, Elia Abu Madi, and Mikhail Naimy, a close friend and distinguished master of Arabic literature, whose descendants Gibran declared to be his own children, and whose nephew, Samir, is a godson of Gibran’s.

DEATH

Gibran died in New York City on April 10, 1931, at the age of 48. The causes were cirrhosis of the liver and tuberculosis. Gibran expressed the wish that he be buried in Lebanon. This wish was fulfilled in 1932, when Mary Haskell and her sister Mariana purchased the Mar Sarkis Monastery in Lebanon, which has since become the Gibran Museum. Written next to Gibran’s grave are the words

“a word I want to see written on my grave: I am alive like you, and I am standing beside you. Close your eyes and look around, you will see me in front of you.”

khalil-kilbran-museum-5

Kahlil Gibran Museum in Bsharri, Lebanon

Gibran willed the contents of his studio to Mary Haskell. There she discovered her letters to him spanning twenty-three years. She initially agreed to burn them because of their intimacy, but recognizing their historical value she saved them. She gave them, along with his letters to her which she had also saved, to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Library before she died in 1964. Excerpts of the over six hundred letters were published in “Beloved Prophet” in 1972.

Mary Haskell Minis (she wed Jacob Florance Minis in 1923) donated her personal collection of nearly one hundred original works of art by Gibran to the Telfair Museum of Art in Savannah, Georgia in 1950. Haskell had been thinking of placing her collection at the Telfair as early as 1914. In a letter to Gibran, she wrote “I am thinking of other museums … the unique little Telfair Gallery in Savannah, Ga., that Gari Melchers chooses pictures for. There when I was a visiting child, form burst upon my astonished little soul.” Haskell’s gift to the Telfair is the largest public collection of Gibran’s visual art in the country, consisting of five oils and numerous works on paper rendered in the artist’s lyrical style, which reflects the influence of symbolism. The future American royalties to his books were willed to his hometown of Bsharri, to be “used for good causes”.

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