Khalil Gibran

Youth in Lebanon

Growing up in the lush region of Bsharri, Gibran proved to be a solitary and pensive child who relished the natural surroundings of the cascading falls, the rugged cliffs and the neighboring green cedars, the beauty of which emerged as a dramatic and symbolic influence to his drawings and writings. Being laden with poverty, he did not receive any formal education or learning, which was limited to regular visits to a village priest who taught him the essentials of religion and The Bible, alongside Syriac and Arabic languages. Recognizing Gibran's inquisitive and alert nature, the priest began teaching him the rudiments of alphabet and language, opening up to Gibran the world of history, science, and language.

At the age of ten, Gibran fell off a cliff, wounding his left shoulder, which remained weak for the rest of his life. To relocate the shoulder, his family strapped it to a cross and wrapped it up for forty days, a symbolic incident reminiscent of Christ's wanderings in the wilderness and which remained etched in Gibran's memory.

Khalil Gibran, Gibran's father, was accused of tax evasion and was sent to prison; the Ottoman authorities confiscated the Gibrans' property and left them homeless. The family went to live with relatives for a while; however, the strong-willed mother, Kamila, decided that the family should emigrate to the U.S., seeking a better life and following in suit to Gibran's uncle who emigrated earlier. The father was released in 1894, but he was undecided about emigrating and remained behind in Lebanon.

Youth in America

On June 25, 1895, the Gibrans embarked on a voyage to the American shores of New York.

The Gibrans settled in Boston's South End, which at the time hosted the second largest Syrian community in the U.S. following New York. The culturally diverse area felt familiar to Kamila, who was comforted by the familiar spoken Arabic, and the widespread Arab customs. Kamila, now the bread-earner of the family, began to work as a peddler on the impoverished streets of South End Boston. At the time, peddling was the major source of income for most Syrian immigrants, who were negatively portrayed due to their unconventional Arab ways and their supposed idleness.

In the school, a registration mistake altered his name forever by shortening it to Kahlil Gibran, which remained unchanged for the rest of his life, despite repeated attempts at restoring his full name. Gibran entered school on September 30, 1895, merely two months after his arrival in the U.S. Having no formal education, he was placed in an ungraded class reserved for immigrant children, who had to learn English from scratch. Gibran caught the eye of his teachers with his sketches and drawings, a hobby he had started during his childhood in Lebanon.

Cultural Growth and Works

Gibran's curiosity led him to the cultural side of Boston, which exposed him to the rich world of the theatre, Opera and artistic galleries. Prodded by the cultural scenes around him and through his artistic drawings, Gibran caught the attention of his teachers at the public school, who saw an artistic future for the boy. They contacted Fred Holland Day, an artist, photographer and a supporter of artists who opened up Gibran's cultural world and set him on the road to artistic fame.

In 1904 Gibran had his first art exhibition in Boston. From 1908 to 1910 he studied art in Paris with Auguste Rodin. In 1912 he settled in New York, where he devoted himself to writing and painting. Gibran's early works were written in Arabic, and from 1918 he published mostly in English. Among his best-known works is The Prophet, a book of 26 poetic essays: which has been translated into over 20 languages.

In 1920 he founded a society for Arab writers, The Pen League (al-Mahgar). Among its members were Mikha'il Na'ima (1889 – 1988), Iliya Abu Madi (1889 – 1957), Nasib Arida (1887 – 1946), Nadra Haddad (1881 – 1950), and Ilyas Abu Shabaka (1903 – 47).

Death and legacy

Gibran died in New York City on April 10, 1931: the cause was determined to be cirrhosis of the liver, and tuberculosis. He was buried in the chapel of Mar Sarkis in Lebanon. He is probably the most famous Arab-American writer ever, and "The Prophet" remains widely popular, with certain passages being read at some weddings and christenings. Gibran's works were especially influential in the American popular culture in the 1960s. Many Americans have a misconception that Gibran is Muslim because of his Arabic name, which is actually a Christian-Arabic name. Much of Gibran's writings deal with Christianity mostly condemning the corrupt practices of the Eastern churches and their clergies during that era.