Why This Writer Uses the Power of the Pen to Fight Back

Jennifer Clement uses her pen powerfully: through her written work, she has illuminated and explored a number of human rights crises while serving as the current president of PEN International and formerly as the PEN Mexico president.

“I’m a writer,” she said simply. “I write about things that hurt me, that don’t let go of me.”

Jennifer Clement

As the president of PEN Mexico, Clement focused largely on the disappearance and killing of journalists in Mexico from 2009 to 2012. As part of this work, PEN partnered with other human rights organizations to shine a spotlight on these murders, which were intended to suppress media coverage. This collaboration resulted in charges for killing a journalist being elevated from a state matter to a federal crime in Mexico.

She is also the first woman to become president in the 94-year history of PEN International. The London-based PEN International, which was founded as a writers’ forum, has become since the 1960s a stalwart defender of freedom of expression and of persecuted writers worldwide.

Clement was born in the U.S. and raised in Mexico City. The poet and author of three novels obtained a master’s in fine arts from the University of Southern Maine. She is fluent in English and Spanish and has also studied French.

Her third novel, “Prayers for the Stolen” (Hogarth/Crown, 2014), was a New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice and a PEN/Faulkner Award finalist. The book, which spins a compelling tale around the disappearance of young girls and the lives ruined by Mexican drug cartels, won the 2015 French magazine Elle’s Grand Prix des Lectrices Lycéennes. For the book, she also received the New York-based Sara Curry Humanitarian Award, which recognizes vision and dedication to helping others.

“I give by shedding light on [the world’s] complex problems through writing,” she said.

For nearly two decades, Clement and her sister Barbara Sibley have run the San Miguel Poetry Week. The event takes place at the start of each year and brings together poets from Mexico, England, and the U.S. Clement said that she sees the week as, among other things, a chance to bridge some of the creative and cultural differences that exist between countries.

When asked to consider how others can inspire giving in their own communities, Clement focused on the need for people to pay attention.

“There needs to be a sense of outrage,” she said. “My outrage is always greater than my fear. When things are not going well we should feel outraged and we should try to change that.”

This notion has inspired not only her writing, but also her commitment to giving back.

“We shouldn’t be complacent,” she added. “We must work to make the world a better world.”

HIP, our parent organization, was so inspired by Clement that it presented her with a HIPGiver award in 2016.