Khalil Gibran was an artist, philosopher and writer. His classic masterpiece The Prophet achieved cult status around the world.
Khalil Gubran was born in Bsharri, Lebanon on 6 January 1883 to a Maronite Catholic family. His mother, Kamila, the daughter of a priest, was thirty when he was born and his father, Khalil was her third husband.
As a result of his family’s poverty, Gibran received no formal schooling during his youth, but the priests visited him regularly and taught him about the Bible and the Arabic language.
When Gibran’s father was imprisoned for embezzlement, his family’s property was confiscated by the authorities. Kamila Gibran decided to follow her brother to the United States and left for New York on 25 June 1895 with Kahlil, his younger sisters Mariana and Sultana, and his elder half-brother Peter.
The Gibrans settled in Boston’s South End, 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 30 September 1895 and due to a mistake was registered as “Kahlil Gibran”.
School officials placed him in a special class for immigrants to learn English. Gibran also enrolled in an art school at Denison House, 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 endeavours. 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 15, 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 10 May. 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 Mariana supported Gibran and herself by working at a dressmaker’s shop.
1907 onwards, Gibran embarked on his artistic and literary career. He held several art exhibitions and developed lifelong friendships on the course with important people such as Mary Elizabeth Haskell, Charlotte Teller, Emilie Michel, Youssef Howayek and Mikhail Naimy.
Gibran and Mary Elizabeth Haskell, a respected headmistress ten years his senior, formed an important friendship that lasted the rest of his life. Haskell spent large sums of money to support Gibran and edited all his English writings. 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. Gibran and Haskell were engaged briefly but Gibran called it off. Gibran didn’t intend to marry her while having affairs with other women. Haskell later married another man, but 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 set off for two years to study art at the Académie Julian in Paris. 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.
Some other important works of Khalil Gibran include al-Mawakib, al-‘Awāsif, The Madman, The Prophet, Sand and Foam, Jesus, The Son of Man, The Earth Gods, The Wanderer, Secrets of the Heart, Voice of the Master, The Beloved and Eye of The Prophet.
Khalil Gibran started drinking seriously during or after publication of The Prophet, and died of liver cirrhosis and tuberculosis on 10 April 1931 in New York City at the age of 48. His wish to be buried in Lebanon was fulfilled in 1932, when Mary Haskell and his sister Mariana purchased the Mar Sarkis Monastery in Lebanon, which has since become the Gibran Museum.
~ Information courtesy Wikipedia