An American Dream Fulfilled: Khalil Gibran14 May 2020
From the time of this nation’s birth, immigrants have crossed to American’s shores in pursuit of new lives built with hard work, determination, and ingenuity. Their immense contributions are part of the very fabric of this country. To celebrate the incredible talent and diversity that immigrants have brought to our land over hundreds of years, MurthyDotCom periodically highlights the light of a notable immigrant who has left a lasting mark on history. The latest entry in our continuing series, entitled An American Dream Fulfilled, is poet, author, illustrator, and journalist Gibran Khalil Gibran (or Jubran Khalil Jubran), who became known in English as Khalil Gibran.
Born in 1883 in a small village in the Ottoman Empire, now known as Lebanon, Gibran displayed a talent for drawing at an early age. Though he did not receive consistent formal education in his early years, his artistic skills were encouraged by a local doctor who served as his mentor. While Gibran was close to his mother and three siblings, his father struggled with substance abuse issues that plunged the family into poverty. In 1895, his mother immigrated with her children to Boston, Massachusetts, to escape the family’s mounting financial problems and start a new life. They settled into the immigrant heavy South End district, and Gibran enrolled in school for the first time in his life. He quickly established himself as a gifted pupil.
Gibran’s flair for the arts eventually attracted the attention of Fred Holland Day, an influential photographer and publisher in the Boston creative scene. Encouraged by his new mentor, Gibran briefly returned to his home country to attend a Maronite Catholic school, where he developed a love of poetry and helmed a popular student magazine. In 1901, he returned to Boston and began to flourish artistically, exhibiting his drawings and photographs and penning a weekly column for a local Arabic language newspaper. After releasing a collection of short stories and a novella written in Arabic, Gibran met Mary Haskell, a wealthy school headmistress, who would foster his writing talent and support him financially for years.
With Haskell’s assistance, Gibran began the transition to publishing work in English. After releasing a few collections of parables, he completed what would become his legacy, The Prophet, in 1923. Formatted as a collection of prose style essays, the book revolves around the character of a holy man returning home after years of exile and expounds upon his views of love, grief, and philosophy. While critics at the time gave The Prophet middling reviews, it became an overnight sensation and launched Gibran into stardom. He relocated to New York City, then a burgeoning hotspot for writers and artists, and counted the iconic authors H.G. Wells and Bertrand Russell among his cohorts.
While Gibran published several follow ups to The Prophet, sustained success eluded him, and he sank into a life of seclusion and alcoholism. He succumbed to complications from cirrhosis of the liver, in 1931, at the age of 48. Though his life was short, Gibran’s American dream lives on today in the form of his most famous work. Nearly 100 years after its debut, The Prophet remains the third highest selling work of poetry of all time, proving that the artistic contributions of the immigrant community can have an impact that endures for generations. [See Khalil Gibran, Biography.com, 02.Apr.2014, updated 14.May.2019.]
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