One of the things Jennifer Clement is proudest of in her long career as an award-winning writer and staunch advocate for other writers and journalists is the manifesto she created while president of PEN International, an organization founded in London in 1921 to promote co-operation among writers worldwide.
This document, titled The PEN International Women’s Manifesto, was passed unanimously by all the PEN Centers at the PEN World Congress in 2017 and has since been translated into more than two dozen languages.
Clement (63), who was born in the United States but raised in Mexico City, where she now lives, spoke briefly of this manifesto during the Q & A segment of her recent reading at the Santa Ana Theater here in San Miguel de Allende, sponsored by Aurora Books here. As the first female president of Pen, she explained that she’d wanted the manifesto’s language to sound fresh, new, and “poetic,” rather than bureaucratic. She called it “a work of sorrow.” (See the full text below.)
She also mentioned, in response to a question from the theater’s large audience, how honored she was to accept UNESCO’s Freedom of Expression award in Brussels on World Press Freedom Day last May. (For more on this, go to www.piwwc.org .)
Clement began the event by reading a chapter from her upcoming memoir, The Promised Party, due out early next year, in which she was with her friend Suzanne Mallouk, artist Jean-Michel Basquiat’s partner, after his death from a heroin overdose. Clement described this soon-to-be published memoir as “a portrait of the artist as a young writer.”
She then read portions from her most acclaimed books, Widow Basquiat, Prayers For the Stolen (which was made into a feature film), and Gun Love. She is now working on a new novel, the third in a triptych, she said, in which Prayers for the Stolen was first, and Gun Love second. She said her goal in writing is always “to make miserable subjects less miserable.” As one reviewer put it, “Clement writes unbearable stories into bearability.”
Kim Malcolm’s exciting new bookstore Aurora Books here in SMA, which sponsored the Clement event, had a table by the theater’s door offering Clement’s books. If you were unable to attend Clement’s reading, be sure to stop by Aurora Books and take a look. Aurora Books is located in the little plaza on Calzada de la Aurora (48A); contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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It is important, I believe, to broadcast Clement’s groundbreaking PEN manifesto – not just as a footnote or a blue link but in its entirety. Here it is, in English, for your convenience:
THE PEN INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S MANIFESTO
The first and founding principle of the PEN Charter asserts that “literature knows no frontiers.” These frontiers were traditionally thought of as borders between countries and peoples. For many women in the world – and for almost all women until relatively recently – the first, and the last and perhaps the most powerful frontier was the door of the house she lived in: her parents’ or her husband’s home.
For women to have free speech, the right to read, the right to write, they need to have the right to roam physically, socially and intellectually. There are few social systems that do not regard with hostility a woman who walks by herself.
PEN believes that violence against women, in all its many forms, both within the walls of a home or in the public sphere, creates dangerous forms of censorship. Across the globe, culture, religion and tradition are repeatedly valued above human rights and are used as arguments to encourage or defend harm against women and girls.
PEN believes that the act of silencing a person is to deny their existence. It is a kind of death. Humanity is both wanting and bereft without the full and free expression of women’s creativity and knowledge.
PEN ENDORSES THE FOLLOWING INTERNATIONALLY RECOGNISED PRINCIPLES:
- NON-VIOLENCE: End violence against women and girls in all of its forms, including legal, physical, sexual, psychological, verbal and digital; promote an environment in which women and girls can express themselves freely, and ensure that all gender-based violence is comprehensively investigated and punished, and compensation provided for victims.
- SAFETY: Protect women writers and journalists and combat impunity for violent acts and harassment committed against women writers and journalists in the world and online.
- EDUCATION: Eliminate gender disparity at all levels of education by promoting full access to quality education for all women and girls,and ensuring that women can fully exercise their education rights to read and write.
- EQUALITY: Ensure that women are accorded equality with men before the law; condemn discrimination against women in all its forms and take all necessary steps to eliminate discrimination and ensure the full equality of all people through the development and advancement of women writers.
- ACCESS: Ensure that women are given the same access to the full range of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights to enable the full and free participation and public recognition of women in all media and across the spectrum of literary forms. Additionally, ensure equal access for women and girls to all forms of media as a means of freedom of expression.
- PARITY: Promote the equal economic participation of women writers, and ensure that women writers and journalists are employed and paid on equal terms to men without any discrimination.
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- For more about Jennifer Clement and her books, please visit:
- For more WOW blogposts on PEN International, as well as Aurora Books, please go to: