Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Notes For January 6th, 2010


This Day In Writing History

On January 6th, 1883, the famous Lebanese writer, poet, artist, and philosopher Khalil Gibran was born. He was born Gibran Khalil Gibran bin Mikha'il bin Sa'ad in the Maronite (Arabic Christian) town of Bsharri, Lebanon. His grandfather was a Maronite priest. Since his family was poor, Gibran received no formal schooling as a young boy. However, he would be tutored by Maronite priests in subjects such as biblical studies and the Arabic and Syriac languages.

In 1891, when Khalil Gibran was eight years old, his father - a compulsive gambler and alcoholic - was imprisoned for embezzlement. As a result, all of the family's property was confiscated by the authorities. Now homeless, Gibran's mother decided to pack up her children and follow her brother to America. The family settled in Boston's South End, which at the time was home to the second largest Lebanese / Syrian immigrant community in the United States.

A few years later, in 1895, while his mother worked as a seamstress and peddler of lace and linens, Khalil Gibran, then twelve years old, began his formal schooling. He was placed in a special class for immigrant children to learn English. Due to a clerical error, he was mistakenly registered under the shortened name of Khalil Gibran instead of under his correct full name. He chose to keep the erroneous moniker.

Gibran also enrolled at a nearby art school, and through his teachers, he met the avant-garde Boston artist and photographer, Fred Holland Day. Day recognized Gibran's talent as an artist and encouraged him in his creative endeavors. A publisher later used some of Gibran's illustrations for book covers.

Although he was strongly attracted to Western art and culture, Gibran's mother and older brother Peter wanted him to learn more about his Lebanese heritage. So, he returned to his homeland and enrolled at a Maronite-run prep school and college in Beirut. Several years later, in 1902, Gibran returned to Boston to find that his younger sister Sultana had died of tuberculosis. The next year, his older brother Peter died of the same disease and his mother succumbed to cancer. So, he lived with his surviving younger sister, Mariana.

In 1904, at the age of 21, Khalil Gibran held his first public art exhibit at Fred Holland Day's studio in Boston. There, he met Mary Elizabeth Haskell, a respected headmistress ten years his senior. She would become a close, lifelong friend. They would write to each other extensively and Mary became a strong influence on his personal life and career.

In 1908, four years after his first public art exhibit, Gibran went to Paris, where he studied art with legendary sculptor Auguste Rodin. In addition to his art, Gibran developed a passion for writing both poetry and prose. His early works, beginning with his first book, Nubthah fi Fan Al-Musiqua, (1905) were written and published in Arabic in his homeland of Lebanon.

Then, in 1917, one of the invited guests at a gathering at Gibran's New York City apartment turned out to be a businessman named Alfred A. Knopf, who had just started a publishing company. Knopf, like the other guests, was impressed with Gibran's writings and signed him to a contract. He wrote in English, specializing in collections of short, poetic prose.

The Madman (1918) and The Forerunner (1920), Khalil Gibran's first two books published by Knopf, weren't successful, but his third book would make him world famous. The Prophet (1923) was sort of a cross between a novel, a collection of essays, and prose poetry. In it, a prophet named Al-mustafa, who has lived in the foreign city of Orphalese for the past twelve years, is about to board a ship bound for his homeland. He is approached by a group of people with whom he discusses the issues of life and the human condition - subjects such as love, friendship, marriage, children, work, laws, freedom, reason, passion, prayer, and death.

Long before he had written The Prophet, Gibran had met Abdu'l-Baha, son of Baha'u'llah, (the 19th century Persian prophet and founder of the Baha'i Faith) during Abdu'l-Baha's 1911-12 visit to the United States. Gibran was deeply impressed and affected by his meeting with the Baha'i leader, and the prose style of The Prophet bears a resemblance to that of the writings of both Abdu'l-Baha and Baha'u'llah. Gibran's prophet Al-mustafa is modeled after Abdu'l-Baha.

Khalil Gibran continued to write more books, most of which dealt with themes such as meditation and spirituality. He died in 1931 of both tuberculosis and cirrhosis of the liver, at the age of 48. A year later, his sister Mariana and his friend Mary Haskell bought an old Maronite monastery in Lebanon, which would become the Gibran Museum. Gibran had willed Mary the contents of his studio, including over a hundred works of art, numerous manuscripts, and a collection of her letters to him that spanned a period of 23 years. She had agreed to burn this intimate correspondence, but, recognizing its historical value, changed her mind and donated it (and a collection of his letters to her) to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Several of Gibran's previously unpublished works would be published posthumously. The Prophet became a classic of the 1960s counterculture, popular with spiritual seekers. In 1995, a sequel to The Prophet would be published posthumously. It was called Eye Of The Prophet.


Quote Of The Day

"Keep me away from the wisdom which does not cry, the philosophy which does not laugh, and the greatness which does not bow before children." - Khalil Gibran


Vanguard Video

Today's video features a reading from the second chapter of The Prophet, by Khalil Gibran. Enjoy!

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