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The Book of Khalid Turns 100!

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Deep inside the NYPL’s Bryant Park Stack Extension (known as BPSE to insiders — pronounced as “Bip-See”) lay many literary treasures and secrets; some are academically obscure and rare while others are widely known and read. The Book of Khalid by Ameen Rihani fits in between.

Photograph of the NYPL Stacks, Digital ID 2006656, New York Public LibraryNYPL Stacks

With over a million items stored under Bryant Park, The Book of Khalid is one title that truly distinguishes itself from others. The Library acquired this book sometime after the publication date: October 1911. From what I have gathered, the Library’s copy became an inspirational literary source to many writers and thinkers across the globe. Over the century, readers have requested this book, read it cover to cover and pondered the essence of the text in the Rose Main Reading Room. In addition, the Library acquired the Arabic version known as Kitab Khalid. Interestingly, both the book and the NYPL turn 100 this year.

Ameen Rihani in 1916Ameen Rihani in 1916

One of the most fascinating anecdotes that I have come across is that Ameen Rihani did not have a formal education but educated himself with the resources of the NYPL. Ameen Rihani was born in Freike, (in Modern day Lebanon) on November 24, 1876. With his younger brother, Ameen arrived to the United States in 1888. (You can even find his passenger record with our genealogy database.) His father also arrived shortly after and created a business in a small neighborhood known as Little Syria located on Washington Street in lower Manhattan. At the age of 12, Ameen went to school and learned English but was later pulled from his studies to work as a clerk, interpreter and bookkeeper for the family business. He taught himself English and classics, and read literary works of Shakespeare, Hugo, Darwin, Huxley, Tolstoy, Thoreau, Emerson, Byron, and many others in the Library. Ameen Rihani was a regular contributor to the Arabic weekly, "Al-Huda" published in New York.  

Throughout his life, Rihani traveled back and forth from the Middle East to New York; he wrote and published many literary essays and books in Arabic and in English. In 1910, Al-Rihaniyat, a collection of political and literary essays was published; Al-Rihaniyat is one of his most prominent works known in the Arab world. According to our catalog record, the "note" states that Ameen Rihani presented a copy to the NYPL in June 1911 just one month after NYPL opened. In October 1911, The Book of Khalid was published; it became the first English novel written by a Lebanese/Arab and the first Arab American literature.      

The Book of Khalid is a story of two boys from Lebanon who immigrate to the Little Syria neighborhood in Lower Manhattan and peddle on the streets. After exposure to the New York artistic and cultural environment of the period, the two return to Lebanon where, inspired by their New York experiences, they transform into political and social revolutionaries and become in conflict with the ruling Ottoman Empire.  

To honor the centennial anniversary of this book as well as the Library's, the NYPL, Project Khalid and CUNYGraduateCenter: Middle Eastern and Middle Eastern American Center will host a program on October 25, 2011 at 6 pm in the StephenA.SchwarzmanBuilding: South Court Auditorium. The event will be introduced by the Lebanese Ambassador to the United States Antoine Chedid, and then following presentations by Todd Fine, Director of Project Khalid and Dr. Akram Khater, Professor of History in North CarolinaStateUniversity. Journalist Rami Khouri will serve as our moderator in directing discussions and questions.   

We hope you can join us for this exciting centennial event and consider reading this historic literary piece in the Rose Main Reading Room as many writers, scholars, students and thinkers have since 1911.

UPDATED: For the audio version of the event, see here

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For a more in-depth post on NYPL’s stacks, see "A Tour of the Stacks."

Literary works by Ameen Rihani.

Literary works on Arab Americans

Main Reading Room, The New York Public Library., Digital ID 805983, New York Public LibraryRose Main Reading Room, The New York Public Library

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