Entering the Public Domain

Under U.S. Copyright Law, a significant number of classic works first published in 1923 have entered into the public domain this year, which means that they can be republished and sold or read online free-of-charge through Project Gutenberg without permission of (or payment to) rights holders. Among the works entering the public domain this year are particular books by Virginia Woolf, D. H. Lawrence, Aldous Huxley, and other leading authors of the last century. One title represented in the holdings of the Manuscripts Division is The Prophet, a collection of twenty-six brief inspirational essays by the Lebanese-American writer and artist Kahlil Gibran (1883-1931), a Maronite Christian influenced by Sufism and Baha’i. This thin volume has sold tens of millions of copies since it was first published by the New York publisher Alfred A. Knopf on 23 September 1923. This popular book achieved cult status in the 1960s. Even before being discovered by the counterculture, President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address (1961) paraphrased Gibran’s essay The New Frontier, in which the latter had written (actually 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?” The book has been a perpetual bestseller and has been translated into twenty languages. Even today, Amazon.com rates Knopf’s Borzoi edition of The Prophet among its dozen best-selling works in the categories of “religious philosophy” and “inspirational philosophy.”

In 2007, the Library received the William H. Shehadi Collection of Kahlil Gibran (C1178) as a gift of the collector’s son Albert B. Shedadi (Woodrow Wilson School *1986). William H. Shehadi was a physician and director of the Department of Radiology at New York Medical College and Westchester Medical Center. He most admired Gibran’s compassion for others. His brother was the late Fadlou A. Shehadi (PhD *1959), a long-time Princeton resident. The collection includes significant portions of Gibran’s working manuscripts and notebooks for four well-known books, all written in English and published by Alfred A. Knopf in New York: The Madman: His Parables and Poems (1918), The Fore-Runner: His Parables and Poems (1920), The Prophet (1923), and The Earth Gods (1931). A page from the collection’s manuscript of The Prophet can be seen below. In particular, 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. The Shehadi Collection is one of the main sources on Gibran, in addition to the author’s published works, love letters and private journal of his American friend and muse Mary Haskell, and Gibran manuscripts retained by family members and not readily available for research. In 1991, American University of Beirut published his book Kahlil Gibran: A Prophet in the Making, based on the Shehadi Collection. For more information, contact Don C. Skemer, Curator of Manuscripts, dcskemer@princeton.edu

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