Kahlil (also spelled Khalil) Gibran was a Lebanese-American writer, poet, visual artist, and philosopher.
Gibran was born in 1883 in the village of Bsharri (then in the Ottoman Empire, in today’s northern Lebanon) to a tax collector father also named Khalil, and a mother named Kamileh Rahmeh who had a child named Boutros from a previous marriage. The family had two daughters after Kahlil, named Mariana and Sultana. The family struggled with poverty.
In 1895, Kamileh Rahmeh emigrated to the United States with her four children in pursuit of better opportunities, leaving her husband back in Lebanon. The family settled in Boston. Gibran studied Art there, and met the famous photographer Fred Holland Day who became an influence. It was in Day’s studio that Gibran was to later hold the first exhibition of his work in 1904.
Later, Gibran returned to Lebanon to study Arabic and French in Beirut. Just before his return to the US, his sister Mariana died, and not long after, his half-brother and mother died too. Gibran met Mary Haskell, a woman that was to have an incredible influence on both his personal and professional life. In 1908, Gibran settled in Paris and engaged in the study of the Arts.
Gibran was an important shaper of modern Arabic literature, and is the best known modern Arab poet around the world. His romantic style is a possible reason, which evokes a sense of mysticism and flavours his English with an Arabic tinge. The Prophet (1923), his best known and most widely translated work, has been variously described as prose poetry, inspirational fiction, and dramatic poetry. Gibran stands among the three bestselling poets of all time, despite being snubbed by the literary establishment of the day.
Kahlil Gibran died in New York City on April 10, 1931, at the prime age of 48 yet leaving behind a rich legacy that continues to inspire artists, humanists, business and political leaders, and development practitioners around the world. In accordance with his wishes, Gibran’s body was returned to Lebanon, where he rests in Bsharri.
In Lebanon, the Gibran National Committee is dedicated to the preservation of the poet’s legacy and the promotion of his work. There are today Kahlil Gibran memorials in Washington D.C. and Boston, Massachusetts. The University of Maryland has a dedicated Chair, the Kahlil Gibran Chair for Values and Peace, which promotes the academic study of Gibran as well as engages in developmental projects in the Middle East and around the world to realise the poet’s visions.
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