By Opheli Garcia Lawler, NYU Florence, NYU Class of 2018
Last night’s dialogue was an enlightening experience. Discussing Prayers for the Stolen provided a platform to not only discuss the literary richness of the text, but also to discuss the efforts to end the trafficking of humans, particularly women and girls. The room was overflowing–with extra chairs being brought in to make room for the abundance of guests–and silently attentive as Jennifer Clement captivated the audience with readings from her novel.
Clement spoke about her poetic approach to telling the stories, which, to her, creates a more “human” and intimate form of sharing the tales of the lives of the people she works with. Clement answered many questions regarding her literary process and explained her line-by-line approach. She related that her eleven years of research were dangerous, as she often was talking to the women involved with the drug cartels–the “hidden” women of Mexico. She discussed the idea of contrast, the idea of balance, and the idea that within beauty there is ugliness, and that pain and joy can work together hand in hand.
The conversation regarding the basis of the book, the trafficking of girls in Mexico, led to an informed discussion on how to change the problem, what to do next, and the fact that men need to join the conversation. Clement has worked with different organizations regarding the trafficking of women. From 2009-2012 Clement was president of one of the oldest human rights group in the world, PEN Mexico, an organization that believes writing is a strong form of protest and assists in protecting those who write daring pieces that challenge social constructs. That is what Jennifer Clement’s novel, Prayers for the Stolen was: a challenge to society. It challenged the role of women in Mexican literature, it challenged the world’s “sweep it under the rug” attitude, and it challenged the idea of a faceless victim, victims who are statistics rather than real people who’ve gone missing.
I personally found the dialogue to be very rewarding, as a fan of Clement’s work this dialogue allowed me to ask her questions about her character’s motivations, her work on Widow Basquiat, and, the highlight of my night, her writing down something I said in her little notebook. Jennifer Clement was a gracious and eloquent guest. She was informative and insightful during her dialogue, and I can not wait for the workshops.
See the Facebook photogallery of the Jennifer Clement Dialogue