‘Prayers for the Stolen’ A Dialogue with writer Jennifer Clement

“You can only sell a bag of drugs once, but you can sell a human being many times, and you can traffic a woman many times – even many times in one day you can prostitute her.”

The sad reality of human trafficking, and especially the trafficking of girls, in Mexico was at the center of award-winning writer Jennifer Clement’s dialogue with students at NYU Florence on September 22, 2014 – Walking on the Bones of Shadows. The story of Ladydi, the main protagonist of Clement’s magnificent Prayers for the Stolen, provides insight into the reality lived by many girls who grow up in the shadows of the drug cartels and human traffickers in rural Mexico.

Clement room 2

Clement shared stories from the 11 years of research she undertook while developing and writing the book; the stories of women survivors, those who had been stolen off the street or from their homes, and lived to tell their stories; women locked up in a woman’s prison whose desperation or madness drove them to commit the unspeakable. All of these stories put a human face on what had, until then, remained shocking headlines for many in the audience.

What role and what responsibility does the writer have in giving voice to these stories? In making these women visible? What role does art play in political and social engagement? Clement shared some thoughts on the political and social dimensions of her work and how writing can be a form of social protest. Clement also addressed elements of her craft. She emphasized her search for the poetic, even in the darkest circumstances, and how the poetic evokes the universality of human experience and allows people, a world away, to connect with ‘the forgotten women of Mexico’.

Clement followed her Dialogue with a writing workshop for students, meeting with them in a small group, delving more deeply into the craft of writing, and providing students feedback on short pieces they produced together.

Watch the full video of Jennifer Clement’s Dialogue here:

Read NYU Florence Sophomore Joshua St. Clair’s report on Jennifer Clement’s Dialogue:

Clement looked around at the attentive students and smiled. “I’m really happy to see so many men in this audience,” she exclaimed. Sometimes it feels as though “I’m just preaching to the choir.” Men, Clement emphasized, play an integral role in the human rights conversation surrounding women. “Women need men to be defending them.” The world is not a place that can function with just one sex, Clement pointed out. The dismissal of men as merely the problem misses the point. “The book is actually a lot about the pain of living without men,” said Clement—the fathers, brothers, and husbands replaced by men of tall boots, black SUV’s, and shiny AK-47s. The problem is less about the presence of the latter and more about the absence of the former. In communities throughout the border regions, men have either gone to the United States seeking work, crossed the border and established new families, died in the process of crossing, or “have simply stopped protecting their women,” Clement explained. “I really wanted to portray the pain of that abandonment.”

- Joshua St. Clair  “So Far From God”

Also see NYU Florence Freshmen Dina Juan and Opheli Garcia Lawler’s take on the night:

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 Stolenwas: 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.

- Opheli Garcia Lawler “Poetic Justice with Jennifer Clement”

Last night’s dialogue was a new experience for me: as a freshman I had yet to understand what exactly it means to be part of a network of students and alumni. Having read and fawned over Prayers for the Stolen, meeting Jennifer Clement and learning about her writing process was enlightening and almost surreal. It was the first time I could discuss with an author the questions and speculations I had gathered while reading their work.

- Dina Juan “A Freshman’s Take on the Dialogue with Jennifer Clement”

Call for applications: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Junior Fellowships

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace is one of the leading think-tanks in Washington, DC, highly respected throughout the world for its thoughtful, academic responses to international crises. Their Junior Fellowships offer an extraordinary opportunity to work for a year in Washington, DC, as a paid research assistant to some of the world’s best scholars in the realm of international relations. According to the institution’s website, “Junior Fellows have the opportunity to conduct research for books, participate in meetings with high-level officials, contribute to congressional testimony, and organize briefings attended by scholars, activists, journalists and government officials.” One past Junior Fellow compared his experience at Carnegie to “attending a university with forty professors and ten students.” Junior Fellows are paid $37,000 and receive a competitive benefits package.

For the 2015–16 program year, Carnegie seeks Junior Fellows in the following fields:

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The Humanities After World War II

By Adriano Iaria, University of Florence alumni, LPD Assistant

In this post I would like to explore the question raised in my previous blog post: are humanities, that is, art, history, and philosophy, necessary to better understand human rights? It seems a very difficult question to answer. I began my inquiry by going back to the period of Word War II and the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, which was discussed in NYU Florence’s recent conference “Public Humanities” on October 9-10 of last week. Article 27 enshrines that “Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits”.

December 10, 1948 the international community, one day after the approval of the UN Convention on Genocide, decided to set down a list of inalienable rights, which included the right to participate in cultural life and to enjoy the arts. Of course, in the aftermath of World War II,  the devestating effects were wide ranging  and people were not the only victims of that war. Monuments, manuscripts, and the arts in general were affected by the conflict, which lasted six years. If we think about the cultural heritage that was lost under the bombs, maybe it is easier to understand why the framers of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights decided to include the right to education and to participate in the cultural life of the community next to the right to life, liberty and security.

What is left of a people without the preservation of its cultural heritage? Can we talk about a people if there is no trace of its art, literature or philosophy? It is not just by chance that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) was founded two months after the end of World War II. Educating people to remember, through the arts, literature and philosophy, is the first step to avoiding the perpetration of crimes and the violation of human rights. The collective reparation of human rights violations envisaged by, for instance, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights includes measures such as a public apology, and the construction of a commemorative building.

As the above has illustrated, the humanities in recent history has been an integral part of our understanding of human rights and deserves the protection and safeguard of the international community. They represent, therefore, a valuable subject of study in order to ensure the respect of human rights.

Public Humanities Conference Spotlight: Vittoria Chierici

By Erica Garbarini, NYU Florence student


Vittoria Chierici is an italian artist who has experimented with several different mediums to express her ideas about art history, movement, energy, and the industrial icons of America. Chierici began her work at the University of Bologna where she studied art history and got involved with two prestigious young artist groups called The Enfatisti and The Neo Conceptuals. After she graduated, Vittoria became interested in combining digital elaborations and painting and focused on creating large murals using this technique. The work she created from this period became extremely popular and traveled to shows all around the world including cities such as: New York, Buenos Aires, Madrid, Chicago, London, Tokyo,  and Vancouver. In 2004, she deviated from her specific style of studio art and began dabbling in all different art forms. She has designed sets for different contemporary dances, she has created documentaries and short films, she has participated in performance art, and she has written several essays and articles on various issues in art and about artists. And this Friday morning, Vittoria Chierici will be here at NYU Florence to speak and to display her work. Don’t miss this opportunity to discuss a career in various art forms with Vittoria Chierici as she participates in the Public Humanities conference!

Public Humanities Reflection

By Dina Juan, NYU Florence student

In the upcoming Public Humanities Conference, a panel of speakers will be discussing the role of the humanities in education and how this education can be utilized in making an impact in the world.

As a Liberal Studies student, I encounter the same question almost every day: “What on earth are you going to do with a Liberal Studies major?” This is often demanded rather than asked, as if my education were offensive to those who might not understand its purpose or value. In terms of achieving success, we are pressured to have chosen a stable, secure career path and have this one goal in mind by the time we begin higher education. While this is a practical approach some, including myself, simply could not find their one true calling after a mere eighteen years of living. This is what I’m doing with Liberal Studies. I’m searching for meaning not only in my life but in the general scheme of human life.

In my search for meaning in the humanities classroom, I encounter another question almost every day: “How is this relevant to me?” From Plato’s ideal society to Gilgamesh’s quest for immortality, my experience so far in a humanities-based education has taught me that there is always a multitude of answers to every question. There are no specific solutions to the problems of the world that we can find in studying philosophy and art history. Instead we are trained to understand the interconnectivity of humanity throughout the ages and out of this ambiguity create new answers for ourselves.

A humanities-based education prepares us for the world in training us to formulate our own bases for thought. This skill is crucial in tackling larger issues that require more than a specific solution. Learning how to view the world from different perspectives, whether it be of an eccentric philosopher from ancient Greece or of a wayward Mesopotamian king, is the fundamental step to understanding what exactly makes us human and how we can make this world more liveable for each other.

Humanities in Education

By Allison Reid, NYU Florence Student, NYU Class of 2016

As a student earning a degree in Global Liberal Studies from New York University, an academic focus in the humanities is of great interest to me. My degree emphasizes the importance of the humanities by incorporating a range of disciplines – such as sociology, philosophy, art history – into a foundation that will, in the words of Peter Brooks, provide me with “the ability to read critically the messages that society, politics, and culture bombard us with” (The Humanities in Public Life, 2).

To put this into perspective, my study in the humanities offers me the opportunity to analyze the utopian society suggested in 380 B.C. in Plato’s Republic, in order to interpret its application to Karl Marx’s 1848 socialist vision in the Communist Manifesto, while also using Marx’s theory on the relationship between the classes to create a model of economic reform in 21st century democracies.

When one’s educational foundation is in the humanities, there develops an intimate relationship between interpretation – of language, contexts, implications – and the application of a matured ethical viewpoint. That is to say, an education in the humanities allows individuals the ability to critically re-evaluate situations with a knowledge that is, according to Geoffrey Harpham, “engaged, connected, worldly, and interdisciplinary” (Human Rights in the Humanities).

My background in social and cultural foundations, therefore, grants a unique perspective on issues extending beyond my classes in philosophy and art history, in fields such as economic reform, political institutions, or sustainable energy solutions for the future. An education in the humanities does not limit my knowledge to the great works, but expands my possibilities to do great work in this world.


EU in Focus Series Student Working Group: Update

By Claudia Cereceda, NYU Florence student, 


As part of the EU in Focus Series, a student-working group was created for individuals who wanted to gain a deeper understanding of the European Union by participating in extra discussion groups that culminates into a trip to Brussels over fall break (October 25th-28th). Requirements included attending all three workshops with Professor Conti, Professor Lombardo, and Professor Giovannetti, attending two student working group meetings, and finally, presenting their findings on October 13th.

This semester’s student working group has been quite productive. Students were divided into two policy groups, immigration and environment, and asked to select a specific point of research within their selected policy groups.  So far, students have chosen an array of topics from the Dutch Integration Act to comparing various EU member states’ environmental policies to determine whether they are preventative or reactionary. This project has really given students the opportunity to explore their field of interest and they are all very excited for the presentations next week!


Human Rights and Humanities

By Adriano Iaria, University of Florence alumni, LPD Assistant

Have you ever thought about the definition of human rights? According to philosopher Jacques Maritain, one of the framers of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “We all agree on the rights, as long as no one asks us why.”

Historically, human rights have been studied in law or public policy departments. However, some institutions such as Macalester College and Bard College study human rights in the humanities. Are art, history, and philosophy necessary to better understand what has been the  prerogative i of political scientists and lawyers for the last 60 years?

This week La Pietra Dialogues will investigate the current state of public humanities scholarship, how scholars working within the academy participate in engaged scholarshop with communities and cultural institutions, and how humanities can relate to human rights. Join us for the Public Humanities Conference, October 9-10. For further information click here.

How do the humanities influence the public perception of human rights? Throughout history, literature, poetry, movies and music have put emotion and momentum behind causes.  These forms of expression have helped to motivate and inspire communities to right wrongs against humanity.  Today, how do the humanities continue to bring an understanding of the human experience in light of current affairs such as the conflict in Syria, starvation in the world’s most impoverished countries, women’s rights, access to education, and many more?  How are modern day historians using stories of the past to keep society from reliving humanity’s mistakes?


Read more about Human Rights and the Humanities


EU in Focus: Reports, Interviews, Fact Sheets

Monday October 6 Professor Giorgia Giovannetti will present the last Dialogue in the EU in Focus series entitled The EU Economy in a Global Perspective (@ 6pm @ Villa Sassetti).

NYU Florence student Joshua St. Clair has written two very informative reports on the first two Dialogues –  A Question of Command on Nicolo Conti’s EU Institutions and Decision-Making Processes Dialogue and A Pocket History: Beethoven, Borders, and British Sitcoms on Davide Lombardo’s History of the EU Dialogue.

Jenny Yang and Alexander Lim, also NYU Florence students, produced fact sheets for both Dialogues, outlining the main facts that students need to know.

NYU Florence student Assia Dzhaparidze carried out an interview with Professor Lombardo to further explore his views on EU history.

Finally, read Professors Conti and Lombardo’s reactions to the Scottish Independence vote – There was More than the Independence of Scotland on the Line in the Scottish Referendum and The Victory of the Scottish ‘No’ Vote.

We look forward to seeing you all at the Dialogue on Monday !


Imma Vitelli: Eritrea to Italy

By Opheli Garcia Lawler, NYU Florence, NYU Class of 2018

Off the coast of Italy, people are risking their lives to flee conflicts in the Middle East and Africa. The voyage to get to Italy is a dangerous one, not only do they have to battle unforgiving deserts and a treacherous sea voyage, but they also are subject to the cruelty of people who capitalize on desperation. Imma Vitelli took the route that these migrants travel and documented what trials they faced.

She details that just to leave a country such as Eritrea, which can sometimes be viewed more as a prison than a nation in the eyes of it’s citizens, is the first battle. From Eritrea, if you can manage to successfully accomplish an escape and fund your trip to the next leg of the journey, you must hope you are not kidnapped and held for ransom. If you can make it through Sudan, where refugee camps are filled with traffickers, kidnappers, rapists and gangs of militia, the next stop is Libya. Crossing Libya is just as dangerous, and the hope is to make it to Sirte or Tripoli, where, if you’ve survived some of the driest desert in the world, you will board a “ship” to cross the Mediterranean. The ships are constantly wrecking. On October 13, 2013 a ship carrying 366 migrants sank and all passengers drowned. Vitelli interviews the father of one of the victims, who had helped fund the boys’ escape.

This crisis is now receiving the attention of the Italian Navy. There are Naval ships constantly being sent to retrieve immigrants out of the Mediterranean, who are not always alive. Sometimes the Italian ships can become hearses, transporting bodies to shore. The issue now, once the “lucky” ones make it to shore, what happens to them? Government centers are filling at an unprecedented rate and churches are now opening their doors to accommodate these immigrants. Italy is struggling with this crisis and is requesting the EU’s assistance in what they view as a European problem, not strictly an Italian problem. Imma Vitelli’s articles offer personal accounts from people along the route from Eritrea to Italy. It is a heartbreaking, cruel, and honest account of the crisis that is flowing.

Map of Eritrea to Italy: https://www.google.it/maps/place/Eritrea/@36.8335343,17.5410101,5z/data=!4m2!3m1!1s0x166d5a3f9dba8565:0x17c208f02f120efa

Full Vanity Fair Report: http://www.vanityfair.it/news/mondo/14/07/28/viaggio-immigrati-italia