Gibran

Khalil Jubran (January 6, 1883 – April 10, 1931) was a Lebanese american artist, poet, and writer. Born in the town of Bsharri in modern-day Lebanon, as a young man he emigrated with his family to the US where he studied art and began his literary career. He is chiefly known for his 1923 book The Prophet, a series of philosophical essays written in english prose. The book sold well despite a cool critical reception, and became extremely popular.

As a result of his family’s poverty, Gibran did not receive any formal schooling during his youth. However, priests visited him regularly and taught him about the Bible, as well as the Arabic.

The Gibrans settled in Boston, at the time the second largest Syrian/Lebanese-American community in the United States. 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 Boston artist, photographer, and publisher Fred Holland, 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. So at the age of fifteen, Gibran went back to Lebanonto study at a  preparatory school and higher-education institute in Beirut. 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. Two weeks before he got back, his sister Sultana died of tubercolosis at the age of 14. The next year, his brother Bhutros 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.

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. 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 August Rodin in Paris for two years. This is where he met his art study partner and lifelong friend Yousif Howayek.He later studied art in Boston.

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 AlfredKnopf, in 1918, was The Madman, a slim volume of aphorisms and parables written in biblical cadence somewhere between poetry and prose.

Gibran’s best-known work is The Prophet, a book composed of twenty-six poetic essays. The book became especially popular during the 1960s. Since it was first published in 1923, The Prophet has never been out of print. Having been translated into more than twenty languages, it was one of the bestselling books of the twentieth century in the United States.

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 used by John Lennon and placed, though in a slightly altered form, into the song Julia from The Beatles” 1968 album The Beatles.

Gibran died in New York on April 10, 1931: the cause was determined to be liver disease and tubercolosis. Before his death, Gibran expressed the wish that he be buried in Lebanon. This wish was fulfilled in 1932. The words written next to Gibran’s grave are “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 .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 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 in Georgia in 1950. Haskell had been thinking of placing her collection at the Telfair as early as 1914. The future American royalties to his books were willed to his hometown of Bsharri, to be “used for good causes”; but this led to years of controversy and violence over the distribution of the money, and eventually the Lebanese government became the overseer.

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