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The Period When Arab Literature Flourished in America

posted on: Feb 12, 2021

By: Ala Abed-Rabbo/Arab America Contributing Writer

The tale of Arab American literature began in the late 1800s when Arab immigrants traveled to North America. They traveled in large numbers from the Syrian region of the Ottoman Empire, mainly from what is now present-day Lebanon. They settled in cities such as Boston and New York.

Who knows how many other great people have had their lives moved by the work of Kahlil Gibran? Gibran is one of the most prominent and admired writers in the modern world. Captivated by the tremendous technological accomplishments of America, Gibran regarded his adopted home from the vantage-point of his cultural legacy. He acknowledged that the picture was imperfect.

Therefore, Gibran sought to introduce some Eastern mysticism into Western materialism, since he believed that humanity is defined by a man able to bestride the two cultures and recognizing the qualities of each.

Kahlil Gibran’s Most Famous Book, The Prophet

His English writings, notably The Prophet, embody a richly harmonious fusion of East and West. Not only was he a man from the East, but he brought an aspect of spirituality to the West. He became a part of the West, in which democracy, freedom, and equality of opportunity opened doors before him.

He flourished in America, thanks mainly to a loyal supporter and occasional lover, Mary Elizabeth Haskell. His mega-seller, The Prophet, published in 1923, would appeal to Depression-era Americans longing uplift and embracing this mystical, escapist Arabian mysticism during the 1930s’ hardships. By 1957, the book of riffs about freedom and work, love and marriage, clothing, and food, had sold a million copies.

Kahlil Gibran’s Appreciated by the International Exhibition of Modern Art, New York City

The Kahlil Gibran Collective

In the United States for Arabic newspapers, his early works dependent on drawings, short stories, poems, and text poems written in simple language. These pieces spoke to the encounters and isolation of Middle Eastern immigrants in the New World.

For Arab readers accustomed to the luxurious but harsh and strict custom of Arabic poetry and literary prose, many of the structures and principles went back to pre-Islamic Bedouin poetry. Therefore, Gibran’s direct and straightforward style was a shock and an encouragement.

Moreover, his ideas of trouble, isolation, and lost rural magnificence and security in a modernizing world also boomed with the encounters of the people. “He quickly found admirers and imitators among Arabic writers, and his reputation as a central figure of Arabic literary modernism has never been challenged.”

On the other hand, Gibran’s status in the English-speaking world has been diverse. His works have been enormously popular, and in the twentieth century, came to be known as the best-selling American poet.

Though Gibran primarily had some achievement as an artist in New York, the artistic currents were moving quickly in other ways. He loved to paint and devoted most of his time to it but had persisted loyalty to the representation of his youth and became an isolated figure on the New York art scene at the International Exhibition of Modern Art.

The Seven Arts Magazine 

Index of Modernist Magazines

In addition, Gibran’s literary career kept flourishing. Founded in New York, in 1913, Al-Funun (The Arts), an Arabic newspaper, provided a medium for his writings, some of which were publicly political. The editor of Al-Funun published fifty-six of Gibran’s early newspaper columns’ collection, among which was Dam’ a wa ibtisamah, written in 1914. It translates, “A Tear and a Smile,” 1950. Most of his work is a page or two long, and the capacity as a total consists of about a hundred pages.

The main topics of his writings included prosaic poems, painterly expositions of a clear image, or story fragments. There are themes are spirituality, love, nature, beauty, and isolation, and homecoming, among which are “Hayat al-hubb,” which means, The Life of Love. It portrays the seasons of love and describes a young man and woman from the spring to the old age of winter.

During World War I, Gibran was involved in Syrian nationalist groups and in attempts to bring support to the hungry people of his homeland. He would not accept the pacifism that was common among his rational American friends. Along with such distinguished writers, the critic Van Wyck Brooks and poet Robert Frost, Gibran was a participant of the advisory board of the prominent literary magazine, The Seven Arts, established in 1916.

Moreover, the magazine published several of Gibran’s works, as well as a praising article, “The Art of Kahlil Gibran.” Gibran’s involvement with the magazine recognized him as a significant literary figure and made him admired on the poetry-reading circuit.

Kahli Gibran’s Success

Moreover, the triumph of what can only be depicted as a literary transformation, led by Gibran, anticipated to its beginning in New York, to which it presented an exceptional challenge. There was no Ottoman rule to repress these writers of al-Mahjar, as the Arab intellectuals in America were known jointly. Their very detachment from their roots provoked powerful emotions, which they combined with the many-sided influence of Western culture. It stirred some extraordinary poetry and style, especially from Kahlil Gibran.

Few would challenge Gibran’s repute as the best during the 20th-century in the Romantic (Arab) tradition. His influence on Arab writers described as strong as that of 19th-century figures, such as Keats and Wordsworth. His achievement as a writer in both English and Arabic gave him a manifesto for the articulation of views.

Gibran’s Arabic articles, poetry, and art were dictated by the idea that the growing nations should embrace only the constructive attributes of Western society. He dreaded that the East was either being seduced by the more treacherous temptations of the West.

Overall, Gibran endeavored to solve cultural and human struggle, in the method forming a unique genre of writing, and surpassing the impediments of East and West. Not only did he become Gibran of Lebanon, but Gibran of America.


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