Biography and History

Kahlil Gibran -- Jubran Khalil Jubran (in Arabic)-- was a Lebanese-American philosophical essayist, novelist, poet, and artist. He was born in Bsharri, Lebanon, but spent much of his productive life in the United States. Due to 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, he began developing ideas that would later form some of his major works. Gibran immigrated with his parents to America in 1895. The family settled in Boston's South End, which had a large Lebanese-American community. It was there that school officials placed Gibran in a special class for immigrants to learn English. One of his English teachers being unfamiliar with the Arabic language suggested that Gibran Anglicize the spelling of his name in order to make it more acceptable to American society; since then he became known as Kahlil Gibran.

In his early teens, the artistry of Gibran's drawings caught the eye of his teachers, and in 1898 his drawings were used for book covers. He held his first art exhibition in 1904 in Boston, and it was there that he met Mary Haskell, who was to be his benefactor all his life. In 1908, he went to study art with Auguste Rodin in Paris; and in 1912, he settled in New York City at the West Tenth Street Studio for Artists in Greenwich Village. There he devoted himself to writing literary essays and short stories, both in Arabic and in English, and to painting. While most of Gibran's early writings were in Syriac and Arabic, most of his work published after 1918 was in English.

Gibran's literary and artistic work is highly romantic and was influenced by the Bible, Friedrich Nietzsche, and William Blake. His writings in both languages, which deal with such themes as love, death, nature, and a longing for his homeland, are full of lyrical outpourings and are expressive of his deeply religious and mystic nature. His best-known work is The Prophet, a book composed of twenty-six poetic essays. During the 1960s, the book became especially popular with the American counterculture and New Age movements, and it remains popular to this day, having been translated into more than 20 languages. Gibran died in New York City, but his wish was to be buried in Lebanon. Mary Haskell and his sister, Mariana, fulfilled this wish by purchasing the Mar Sarkis Monastery in Bsharri, Lebanon, where he was buried. Kahlil Gibran remains the most popular Lebanese-American writer.

William Shehadi, M.D., was born in Providence, R.I., of Lebanese parents. He graduated from the School of Medicine of the American University of Beirut and was an emeritus professor of New York Medical College.

Source: From the finding aid for C1178

  • William H. Shehadi Collection of Kahlil Gibran. 1918-1991 (inclusive), 1918-1931 (bulk).

    Call Number: C1178

    Consists of manuscripts, photographs, and ephemera by and about the Lebanese-American philosophical essayist, novelist, mystical poet, and artist Kahlil Gibran, who, by fusing elements of Eastern and Western mysticism, achieved lasting fame with such poetic works as The Prophet (1923) and Jesus, the Son of Man (1928). This material was collected by William H. Shehadi.