Khalil Gibran (also known as Kahlil Gibran; born Gibran Khalil Gibran, Arabic: ????? ???? ?????, (January 6, 1883 – April 10, 1931) Lebanese American artist, poet and writer. He was born in Lebanon and spent much of his life in the United States.
Youth in Lebanon
According to a relative of the same name, the Gibran family's origins are obscure. Though his mother was the "offspring of a priestly, and important family", the Gibran clan was "small and undistinguished." He was born in the Christian Maronite town of Bsharri in today's northern Lebanon - at the time, part of the Ottoman Empire - and grew up in the region of Bsharri. His maternal grandfather was a Maronite Catholic priest.
As a result of his family's poverty, Gibran did not receive any formal schooling during his youth in Lebanon. However, priests visited him regularly and taught him about the Bible, as well as the Syriac and Arabic languages. During these early days, Gibran began developing ideas that would later form some of his major works. In particular, he conceived of The Prophet at this time.
After Gibran's father went to prison for fraud and tax evasion, Ottoman authorities confiscated his family's property. Authorities released Gibran's father in 1894, but the family had by then lost their home. Gibran's mother, Kamilah, decided to follow Gibran's uncle and immigrate to the United States. Gibran's father chose to remain in Lebanon. Gibran's mother, along with Khalil, his younger sisters Mariana and Sultana, and his half-brother Peter (a.k.a. Butros) left for New York on June 25, 1895.
Youth in America
Khalil Gibran, Photograph by Fred Holland Day, c. 1898At the time the second largest Lebanese-American community was in Boston's South End, so the Gibrans decided to settle there. His mother began working as a peddler to bring in money for the family, and Gibran started school on September 30, 1895. Since he had had no formal schooling in Lebanon, school officials placed him in a special class for immigrants to learn English. Gibran's English teacher suggested that he Anglicise the spelling of his name in order to make it more acceptable to American society. Kahlil Gibran was the result.
In his early teens, the artistry of Gibran's drawings caught the eye of his teachers and he was introduced to the avant-garde Boston artist, photographer, and publisher Fred Holland Day, who encouraged and supported Gibran in his creative endeavors.
Art and poetry
A publisher used some of Gibran's drawings for book covers in 1898, and Gibran held his first art exhibition in 1904 in Boston. 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. Though publicly discreet, their correspondence reveals an exalted intimacy. Haskell influenced not only Gibran's personal life, but also his career. In 1908, Gibran went to study art with Auguste Rodin in Paris for two years. This is where he met his art study partner and lifelong friend Youssef Howayek. He later studied art in Boston.
While most of Gibran's early writings were in Syriac and Arabic, most of his work published after 1918 was in English. Gibran also took part in the New York Pen League, also known as the "immigrant poets" (al-mahjar), alongside other important Lebanese American authors such as Ameen Rihani ("the father of Lebanese American literature"), Mikhail Naimy and Elia Abu Madi.
Much of Gibran's writings deal with Christianity, mostly condemning the corrupt practices of the Eastern churches and their clergies during that era. His poetry is notable for its use of formal language, as well as insights on topics of life using spiritual terms.
Gibran's best-known work is The Prophet, a book composed of 26 poetic essays. During the 1960s, The Prophet became especially popular with the American counterculture and New Age movements. The Prophet remains famous to this day, having been translated into more than 20 languages.
One of his most notable lines of poetry in the English speaking world is from 'Sand and Foam' (1926), which reads : 'Half of what I say is meaningless, but I say it so that the other half may reach you'. This was taken by John Lennon and placed, though in a slightly altered form, into the song Julia from The Beatles' 1968 album The Beatles (a.k.a. The White Album).
Juliet Thompson, one of Khalil Gibran's acquaintances, said that Gibran told her that he thought of `Abdu'l-Bah?, the leader of the Bah?'? Faith in his lifetime, all the way through writing The Prophet. `Abdu'l-Bah?'s personage also influenced Jesus, The Son of Man, another book by Gibran. It is certain that Gibran did two portraits of him during this period.
Death and legacy
Khalil Gibran memorial in Washington, D.C.
The Gibran Museum and Gibran's final resting place, located in Bsharri, LebanonGibran died in New York City on April 10, 1931: the cause was determined to be cirrhosis of the liver and tuberculosis. Before his death, Gibran expressed the wish that he be buried in Lebanon. This wish was fulfilled in 1932, when Mary Haskell and his sister Mariana purchased the Mar Sarkis Monastery in Lebanon. Gibran remains the most popular Lebanese-American writer ever.
Gibran willed the contents of his studio to Mary Haskell. There she discovered her letters to him spanning 23 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 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 after moving to Savannah, Georgia in 1923) donated her personal collection of nearly one hundred original works of art by Gibran to the Telfair Museum of Art in Savannah in 1950. Haskell had been thinking of placing her collection at the Telfair as early as 1914. In a letter to Gibran, she explained, "...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 extraordinary gift to the Telfair is the largest public collection of Kahlil 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.