Jennifer Clement Elected President of PEN International at 81st Congress

29 Oct 2015
Jennifer Clement Elected President of PEN International at 81st Congress

Mexican-American writer Jennifer Clement was elected as PEN International President during the 81st PEN International Congress which was held in Quebec City, Canada from October 13 – 16 2015. This follows Canadian writer John Ralston Saul stepping down from the position after six years. The PEN South Africa Executive board was impressed with Jennifer’s experience, literary credentials and background in human rights work and so nominated her as a candidate for the position along with the support of Mexican PEN and Swedish PEN.

“As a writer and activist I have advocated for those silenced by gender, race and class. Global gender censorship is escalating. It is time for PEN to lead in this area in a more visible way.” – Jennifer Clement

Jennifer is PEN International’s first female president after almost 100 years and 31 male presidents. She ran alongside two other women – Zeynep Oral (Turkish PEN) and Vida Ognjenović (Serbian PEN). The candidates had several opportunities to speak and answer questions prior to the election at the Congress. Jennifer spoke about the impact that denying girls an education will have, saying that “there are whole libraries that don’t exist because of gender censorship” and that without the voices of women “half the world, half the human experience would be missing”.

During a question and answer session with the candidates, PEN Ghana President and PEN Africa Network (PAN) Secretary General Dr Frankie Asare-Donkoh asked what plans they had for the Africa region PEN Centres. Jennifer’s answer was that she recognises the disparity of issues being faced across the continent and that each country would need to be looked at individually.

“Thank you to all of you. Everyone is saying congratulations. But this is not a prize, it’s not an award. It’s an act of trust. I hope that I am worthy of your trust.” – Jennifer Clement

As president of PEN Mexico from 2009 to 2012, Jennifer’s work focused on the disappearance and killing of journalists, while her writing and activism in general represent her lifelong commitment to honouring those silenced by gender, class and race. She was awarded the Sara Curry Humanitarian Award in 2014 for her novel, Prayers for the Stolen, which involved over ten years of research on the abduction of young girls in Mexico. Read an excerpt from the book, shared by Books LIVE.

“It is wonderful to welcome Jennifer Clement as the new President of PEN International. She takes up this challenging role at a time of increasing global conflict and repression which has seen growing numbers of writers killed, jailed and silenced across the globe. She is a feminist, a gifted writer and has wide experience in human rights work in Mexico where writers and journalists are routinely persecuted. She brings with her an imaginative vision and a pair of experienced and steady hands. I look forward to working with her both as President of PEN South Africa and as a member of the PEN International board.” – Margie Orford

Read John Ralston’s Saul’s last speech as PEN International President