Ameen Albert Rihani
Born in Freike, Lebanon, Ameen Rihani was one of six children and the oldest son of Ferris Rihani, who was engaged in raw-silk manufacturing. The father's commercial ambitions attracted him to America, where he sent his brother and Ameen first and then followed a year later. The twelve-year-old immigrant was placed in a school outside New York City, where he learned the rudiments of English. His father and uncle set up shop in a small cellar in lower Manhattan, using the boy's indispensable knowledge of English for the family business. His first readings in the cellar introduced him to William Shakespeare and Victor Hugo, but in time he became familiar with many of Europe's greatest writers. Endowed with a natural talent for eloquent speaking, in 1895 the stagestruck teenager joined a touring stock company headed by Henry Jewet (who later opened a theater in Boston), but during the summer of that year the troupe became stranded in Kansas City, Missouri, and the prodigal son returned to his father. He was determined, however, not to rejoin the business but to insist on following a regular course of study that would lead to a professional career. The choice having fallen on law, Rihani attended night school for a year, then entered law school in 1897. But a lung infection soon interrupted his studies, requiring his return to Lebanon to recover.
Back in his homeland he taught English in a clerical school in exchange for lessons in his native Arabic tongue. He read Arab and other Eastern poets and especially the forerunner of Omar Khayyam, Abul-'Ala', some of whose quatrains he would translate into English and publish in 1903. Returning to New York in 1899, he joined several literary and artistic societies and contributed regularly to the Arabic weekly Al-Huda, published in New York. His first published work in Arabic was a treatise on the French Revolution entitled Nubtha fith-thowra-t-Famnciya (1902).