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Collection of Kahlil Gibran manuscripts donated to the library

From the June 18, 2007, Princeton Weekly Bulletin

Significant portions of the working manuscripts and notebooks of four well-known books, including "The Prophet," by Kahlil Gibran have been donated to the Princeton University Library.

The library's Department of Rare Books and Special Collections is now home to the William H. Shehadi Collection of Kahlil Gibran (1883-1931). The notebooks contain the author's many textual changes and deletions. The collection also includes fragments of other manuscripts, photographs of his New York studio and published editions of his works.

Embraced by American counterculture 30 years after his death, Gibran achieved mainstream popularity posthumously in the 1960s and '70s. "The Prophet" has sold millions of copies and continues to sell well in bookstores and online. Even today, his main books remain in print.

"The iconic value of this collection is significant," said Don Skemer, curator of manuscripts in the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections.

Gibran, who was born in Lebanon, moved permanently to the United States in 1912 and spent most of his creative life in New York. Also an artist, he created paintings that were exhibited and reproduced during his life. French sculptor Auguste Rodin praised his art as reminiscent of William Blake.

"The Prophet" (1923), Gibran's principal work, was written in English and has been translated into 20 languages. It was inspired, in part, by the life and teachings of the founder of the Baha'i faith. In the book, Almustafa the Prophet offers wise counsel in the form of 26 brief essays on aspects of human life. Gibran also illustrated the volume.

In a recent biography of Gibran, Robin Waterfield observed, "The sales figures alone show that the book continues to fulfill an urgent need in people. It strikes a chord, responds to something deep. In our present rather secular age, many people turn to 'The Prophet' for succour and spiritual sustenance at times of crisis, or to supplement or stand in for the liturgy of marriage and funeral services."

Skemer noted that Gibran's words also have turned up in other interesting places. It is believed that President John F. Kennedy's inaugural address in 1961 paraphrased Gibran's essay "The New Frontier," in which Gibran had written about the Middle East, "Are you a politician asking what your country can do for you or a zealous one asking what you can do for your country?"

In addition to papers pertaining to "The Prophet," the Shehadi Collection also includes manuscripts and notebooks of "The Madman: His Parables and Poems" (1918), "The Fore-Runner: His Parables and Poems" (1920) and "The Earth Gods" (1931).

Aside from Gibran's works and the published love letters and private journal of his American friend and muse Mary Haskell, the manuscripts in the Shehadi Collection are one of the main sources on Gibran, Skemer said. The collection was amassed by Shehadi, a Lebanese-American physician, researcher and professor who was educated at American University of Beirut. Shehadi, who admired Gibran's compassionate concern for others, published several articles on Gibran and, in 1991, a book based on the collection titled "Kahlil Gibran: A Prophet in the Making."

The donation to the library was made by his family. His son, Albert Shehadi, earned an MPA in 1986 from Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. William's brother, Fadlou Shehadi, earned his Ph.D. in philosophy in 1959 from the University. He is a longtime Princeton resident and a retired Rutgers University faculty member.

Skemer expects conservation work on the collection to be completed during this summer so that it will be available to researchers.

For more information, contact Skemer.

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