While looking over some Arabic poetry with a friend, it came up that going to school in Syria, the poetry of the Muhajar poets — Arab expatriate poets based in the New World, primarily New York — figured prominently in his literary education. In New York City, a group of such poets formed a poetic society known as al-rabitah al-qalamiyyah (The Pen Association). The association’s president was Khalil Jubran (Jubran Khalil Jubran). Other great Arab poets joined him in NYC, such as Mikha`il Nu`aymah and Ilya Abu Mahdi. Other Arab poets found their way to New York, Sao Paulo, Rio or Egypt and contributed to the Arab cultural renaissance (Nahda) in the decades before the Second World War. While the migrants’ contributions to Arabic poetry and literature was immense, it remains little known outside of the Arab world.
Jubran stands out in this respect because he wrote several major works in English that became quite popular in the United States. When I told my friend that I had read Jubran’s work in American literature classes and seen his poems in American [high school] history books, he was surprised. Somewhat sardonically, he said “Ah, Jubran is American now?” Jubran is often given as an “Arab-American“, a “Lebanese American”, a “Syrian“, a “Lebanese”, a “Maronite“, and various other ethno-racial appellations. He was a little bit of all of these things. He was born in Lebanon, partially reared in Boston, educated in Lebanon and the US, lived in New York (as well as France), wrote primarily in Arabic, and is buried in Lebanon. It’s somewhat tough to decide; was Jubran an American?