4umi Khalil Gibran : Introductory biography

Khalil Gibran

Gibran Khalil Gibran was born on January 6, 1883, to the Maronite family of Gibran in Bisharri, a mountainous area in Northern Lebanon. Lebanon at the time was a Turkish province, part of Greater Syria (Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine) and subjugated to Ottoman dominion. His mother Kamila Rahmeh was thirty when she begot Gibran from her third husband Khalil Gibran, a tax collector who proved to be an irresponsible husband leading the family to poverty. Gibran had a half-brother six years older than him called Butros and two younger sisters, Mariana and Sultana, to whom he was deeply attached throughout his life, along with his mother. Kamila came from a family with a prestigious religious background, which imbued the uneducated mother with a strong will and later helped her raise up the family on her own.

Khalil Gibran, aged 25, oil painting by Yusef Hoyiek.
Oil painting of Gibran by Yusef Hoyiek, 1908.

Growing up in the lush region of Bsharri, Khalil 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, his education was limited to visits to a village priest who doctrined him with 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 ever since. 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.

At the age of eight, Khalil Gibran, Gibran's father, was accused of tax evasion and was sent to prison as the Ottomon authorities confiscated the Gibrans' property and left them homeless. The family went to live with relatives for a while; however, the strong-willed mother decided that the family should immigrate to the United States, seeking a better life and following in suit to Gibran's uncle who immigrated earlier. The father was released in 1894, but—being an irresponsible head of the family—he was undecided about immigration and remained behind in Lebanon.

On June 25, 1895, the Gibrans embarked on a voyage to New York. They 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.

Gibran in 1931.
Photograph of Gibran in 1931.
Gibran's studio at 51 West Tenth Street, New York in 1932.

At the school, a registration mistake changed his name to Khalil Gibran, which remained so for the rest of his life despite repeated attempts at restoring his full name. He entered school on September 30, 1895, merely two months after his arrival in the New World. Having had no formal education, he was placed in an ungraded class reserved for immigrant children, who had to learn English from scratch. Gibran caught the attention of his teachers with his sketches and drawings, a hobby he had started during his childhood in Lebanon. They contacted Fred Holland Day, an artist himself but also a supporter of artists, who opened up Gibran's cultural world and set him on the road to fame.

In 1904 Gibran held his first art exhibition in Boston. From 1908 to 1910 he studied art in Paris with August Rodin. In 1912 he settled in New York, where he devoted himself to writing and painting. Gibran's early works were written in Arabic, but from 1918 he published mostly in English. In 1920 he founded Aribitah (the Pen Bond), a society for Arab writers. 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 Sabaka (1903-47).

Khalil Gibran died on April 10, 1931 in a New York hospital. He was forty-eight years old and had liver cancer caused by a long term battle with alcohol. According to his wishes his family buried him where he was born, in Bsharri, Lebanon. The people who attended his burial service said it wasn't a time of mourning, but of celebration.

Gibran's works were especially influential in the American popular culture in the 1960's. His best known work is The Prophet, a collection of 26 poetic essays, which has been translated into over a hundred languages.

A potpourri of people and places from Gibran's life.

Once the primary source for this page, although now less so, can be found at www.library.cornell.edu/...gibrn.htm.
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 Khalil Gibran Introductory biography Spirits Rebellious The Broken Wings A Tear and a Smile The Madman The Forerunner The Prophet The New Frontier Sand and Foam Jesus, The Son Of Man The Earth Gods The Wanderer Al-Nay The Garden of the Prophet Lazarus and His Beloved Satan My Countrymen I Believe In You Your Thought And Mine You Have Your Lebanon History and the Nation The Vision Visual art