by Kahlil Gibran; Mary Haskell; Virginia Hilu Print book : Biography  |  First edition
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The Real-World Paranormal Romance of an Adored Author   (2008-10-16)
The world’s abundant treasury of art and literature would likely be a lot less abundant if not for those famed, or sometimes secret, patrons of the arts who assisted many of our most celebrated creative artists at crucial points in their lives––and sometimes throughout their lives. For visual artist Pablo Picasso, author and patron Gertrude Stein played a major role helping to launch his unparalleled career in twentieth century art. For the Harlem Renaissance writer Langston Hughes, the mysterious heiress Charlotte Osgood Mason supported him (as well as others associated with the Harlem Renaissance) in great style at the start of his literary career.
In the case of the Lebanese poet and artist Kahlil Gibran, the crucial lifeline came from American schoolmistress Mary Haskell. Just how essential, passionate, and sacred that lifeline was comes through with deep intensity in the pages of BELOVED PROPHET. Editor Virginia Hilu worked her way though more than 600 letters and decades of journal entries to carefully compose a book that goes far beyond amusing or impressive anecdotes to give readers the softly thundering heart and soul of a man whose works continue to inspire millions and the woman who helped make that work possible.
Before the world came to know him as the famed author of such titles as The Prophet and Jesus the Son of Man, Mary Haskell met Gibran at his first art exhibit in 1904 when he was 21 and she was 30. Four years later, she sponsored his trip to Paris, where he studied art for two years and began a correspondence with Haskell that would last the rest his life. Upon his return from Paris to New York City, he both wrote and visited Haskell, whose school was in Boston. Gibran’s understandably deep attachment to the woman who would come to mean so much to his life and career is evident even in those early letters, such as when he wrote this in 1908: “When I am unhappy, dear Mary, I read your letters… They remind me of my true self. They make me overlook all that is not high and beautiful in life.” More than a decade later, in 1922, he tells her, “We have become one, Mary. You have entered my being––and you can’t cut off either of us without destroying the other.”
If Beloved Prophet was comprised of nothing more than letters, it would be a less powerful or significant book. However, the entries from Mary Haskell’s journal provide a wealth of insights both into her relationship with the artist-poet and into her own passionate being. Through those entries we receive accounts of Gibran’s family relationships, how such events as the early deaths of his mother, a brother, and a sister impacted his life. We also learn quite a bit about his creative processes and the role Haskell often played in it. While helping Gibran organize initial drafts for The Prophet, she noted, “How absolutely the Prophet is Kahlil, although Kahlil has several times said, ‘This is not I, but the Prophet.’” Upon receiving one of the first published copies of it, she predicted, “This book will be held as one of the treasures of English literature. And in our darkness we will open it to find ourselves again and the heaven and the earth within ourselves.”
Addressing one another as “Beloved,” and with references to their “greater selves” and life-transforming connection, Beloved Prophet sometimes reads like an extraordinary paranormal romance made much more profound by its concrete reality. The degrees of intimacy between Gibran and Haskell varied over the years but the general integrity of their relationship remained intact. It survived Haskell’s move to Savannah, Georgia, in 1924 and her marriage to Florance Minis in 1926. After Gibran’s death in 1931, his biographer Barbara Young discovered the letters while Haskell was present and suggested they destroy them to avoid any misinterpretation of their contents. Haskell eventually rejected that suggestion, seemingly out of belief that the letters might help future readers more greatly appreciate the rarity of Gibran’s spiritual genius and the noble beauty of his very real humanity.
by Author-Poet Aberjhani
author of The American Poet Who Went Home Again
and Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance
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