#fbm17: Women in Publishing – interview with Jennifer Clement, President of PEN International

Jennifer Clement

Jennifer Clement, 1960 in Connecticut geboren, wuchs in Mexiko-Stadt auf, studierte in New York und Paris Literaturwissenschaft und hat Lyrik und zwei Romane veröffentlicht. Sie ist die Präsidentin des PEN International.

Ihr zweiter Roman Gebete für die Vermissten erschien 2014 in Deutschland bei Suhrkamp. Dieser wurde mit zahlreichen Preisen ausgezeichnet. Über zehn Jahre lang recherchierte sie für diesen in der mexikanischen Provinz und führte Hunderte Interviews mit vom Drogenkrieg betroffenen Mädchen und Frauen durch.

Seit 2015 ist Jennifer Clement Präsidentin des PEN International. In dieser Zeit konnte sie das PEN International Copyright Manifesto und das PEN International Women’s Manifesto auf den Weg bringen.

What matters in your life?

My children, poetry and, to quote George Bernard Shaw: “This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”

You are the president of PEN International. What have you achieved since taking office?

Since taking office, I’ve worked to create the PEN International Copyright Manifesto and the PEN International Women’s Manifesto. This year we also changed the PEN Charter to include all hatreds – not just those of class, race and nationality – and included the concept of equality.

I’ve also led a mission to Turkey (PEN’s largest mission ever) and visited the Tibetans in Exile in India and the Palestinian Centre where I visited Dareen Tatour in Nazareth. A more in-depth look at what has been achieved in the past two years can be found here: PEN International

When you belong to PEN, you’re always in contact with the bravest and most exceptional people in the world.

Recently, PEN International has had a conference in Lviv, Ukraine. What important resolutions did you make there? Can you tell us about the Women’s Manifesto?

This year’s conference was held in Lviv because it was hosted by PEN Ukraine. Since the Russian occupation of Crimea and the Donbass, PEN has promoted the dialogue of Russian and Ukrainian writers against authoritarian regimes and violent aggression.

The theme of the congress was “Regaining Truth from Propaganda”. We presented two reports on freedom of expression in Ukraine and in Russia (you can find these on our web site). David Patrikarakos closed the congress addressing “Fact, Fiction and Politics in a Post Truth Age.” He spoke of the way in which Internet trolls have become an army, as they are literally soldiers in the new social media warfare of creating false stories to influence or direct world events.

Regarding The PEN International Women’s Manifesto, we believe in the manifold varieties of violence –- from murder and sex-selective abortion to stolen girls who are sold and trafficked to female students at universities who are rated and slut shamed on social media – one common result is to silence the voices of women and hamper the transmission of their words and stories across the boundaries of culture, class and nation, leaving unfilled pages and impoverished literatures.

What are the major challenges PEN International is facing?

It is impossible not to reflect on the rise of propaganda and its relationship to freedom of expression – from Russia, to Islamic State and to the debate around Brexit and most recently in the elections in the United States. Propaganda is antithetical to the free flow of ideas and is closely linked to xenophobia and religious and ethnic intolerance across all continents – from the refusal of Australia to allow asylum seekers access, to the crimes against the Rohingya, to inter-ethnic conflict in Mali, the devastating wars in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, not to speak of #Blacklivesmatter and the Fortress Europe response to the on-going refugee crisis.  

Why is it so important to stand up for the freedom of the word?

At the heart of PEN’s mission lies the transformative power of literature and the written word to promote peaceful debate and dialogue. PEN’s members have been reclaiming truth from propaganda since 1921. As it approaches its centenary, PEN’s work is more vital than ever.

How do you see the situation of female authors? How can women authors become more visible? What are the possibilities for change?

The historical lack of freedoms for women and girls has almost always been defended by reference to culture, religion and tradition. These arguments underscore that few groups have suffered greater violations of human rights in the name of culture than women. Women are killed every day because they write or speak out.

How do you perceive the Gender Gap in the literature business?

It’s subtle and then not so subtle. It was Kamila Shamsie, for example, that realized that women’s books that won prizes almost always had male protagonists.

How important is gender-sensitivity in language to you?

I’m bilingual in Spanish and English and Spanish is completely based on gender so it’s complex. I actually have a poem about this called “Making Love in Spanish”. The poem is about everything in the room – all the objects – in a state of passion for each other.

What importance does the meeting place Frankfurter Buchmesse have for you?

It’s important to have places where the trade can meet in a global context.

How important are networks, such as BücherFrauen – Women in Publishing for you?

I think they are very important and I hope they will take on the PEN International Women’s Manifesto as part of their advocacy documents.

What do you value in particular about Nina George?

Her commitment to women’s issues and her books. She’s an advisor on the PEN International Women’s Manifesto.

Jennifer Clement, we thank you for this interview.


Das Interview führte Yvonne de Andrés. Foto unten: Yvonne de Andrés

PEN International Women’s Manifesto

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