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A South End creative dynasty

by Michele D.  Maniscalco
Thursday May 11, 2017

Photo by Michele Maniscalco
Photo by Michele Maniscalco  

While she comes across as articulate and affable, Jean Gibran, a longtime resident of West Canton Street who taught in the Boston Public Schools for 25 years, has a down-to-earth manner that one might not expect from the matriarch of an accomplished and creative dynasty. Her late husband, the internationally renowned sculptor, luthier and inventor Kahlil Gibran, with whom she shared a 50-year marriage movingly and lovingly chronicled in her 2014 book, "Love Made Visible", was the younger cousin of the poet Kahlil Gibran, author of "The Prophet", a perennial favorite among college students and young adults for decades.

The younger Kahlil's artistic legacy is represented with whimsical sculptures of children in two South End Parks: "West Canton Street Child", in Hayes Park and "Ad Astra" in Childe Hassam Park. Jean and Kahlil collaborated on "Kahlil Gibran: His Life and World", widely considered a definitive biography of the poet. Jean's recent revision of the biography, "Kahlil Gibran: Beyond Borders", was published in December 2016. Jean presented on the new book at last fall's South End Authors Book Festival and at a book talk late last month at Barnes and Noble at the Prudential Center.

The book talk was a sort of South End reunion with current and former neighbors as well as a few others sitting in rapt attention as she talked about the poet's life: traveling from Boston to Beirut as a young man to immerse himself in Arab culture and literature; forming intellectual alliances and friendships across religious barriers with Muslims and Jews in Boston as well as the largely Christian Arab community here.

The poet, a Christian himself, was once invited to an international committee in New York to lecture on Islam. The poet Gibran forged a philosophical kinship with the Rabbi Charles Fleischer of Temple Adath Israel, who helped bring Reform Judaism to Boston. Jean Gibran recounted that the poet was also profoundly touched by the ravages of the Syrian Famine of 1916 and the Armenian Genocide.

Jean Gibran explained that the "Beyond Borders" title reflects the poet's cross-cultural and interfaith explorations and connections. Jean Gibran also made the point that "The Prophet" did not suddenly gain popularity in the 1950s and 1960s, but was popular and influential from the early 20th century. After the approximately 30-minute talk, Jean Gibran remained to sign books and field questions as passersby stopped to learn more.

On Friday, May 5, Jean Gibran joined her daughter, Dr. Nicole Gibran, for a Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) alumni association ceremony recognizing her achievements in the field of burn treatment. Dr. Gibran is a researcher, professor of surgery at University of Washington (UW) and director of the UW Medicine Regional Burn Center, treating burn patients and performing restorative surgery as well as serving as chairperson of a committee that oversees burn centers.

In restoring the features and ultimately, the body image, of patients scarred by burns, Dr. Gibran is also an aesthetic artist. In her acceptance of the alumni association's accolade, she fondly recalled her parents' support for her career aspirations. "The day I was accepted into BU School of Medicine was one of my happiest days, and more importantly, one of my parents' happiest days," Dr. Gibran said in her remarks to the alumni association. She continued, "To accept such an award is on the backs of many people who have allowed me to do what I have done with my career, not the least of which are my multi-disciplinary team who have dedicated themselves to caring for patients; my patients, who have been the voice that drives me to want to be there for them."

After the ceremony, Dr. Gibran said, "My parents created my resolve. They were insistent that there would be no barriers for me. I never felt that my sex would be a barrier and I never felt that I couldn't be a leader." The wife of a fellow reconstructive surgeon and mother of two sons, Dr. Gibran added, "I was told by some people that I couldn't be a surgeon because I couldn't have a wife, but I did it. I was told that I couldn't do research and have a career in surgery. I was told that I couldn't have kids and a career in surgery, but I always believed that I could do anything I want if I set my mind to it." Asked whom she looks up to professionally, Dr. Gibran said, "We all have heroes. Mine is Dr. David Walton at Mass. Eye and Ear. He saved my son's eyesight."

Dr. Gibran's honor at BUSM came the day after her birthday, which she marked in Boston with her mother. The two were clearly happy to be together for the two momentous occasions. Jean Gibran remarked, "It's wonderful. I am so proud of my daughter. It's been one wonderful week of celebration."


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