Poetic Justice with Jennifer Clement

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

The Women’s National Book Association List of Books to Read in 2014

The Women’s National Book Association list of Books to Read in 2014 showcases a wide variety of works: from Anthony Doerr’s A Light We Cannot See, the story of a member of Hitler Youth and his blind sister, to Jennifer Clement’s Prayers for the Stolen, about women struggling against the power hold of the drug cartels, we find a common theme in the human spirit’s ability to thrive despite less favorable circumstances.

Here is the full list:

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
Cataract City by Craig Davidson
Children of the Jacaranda Tree by Sahar Delijani
The Commandant of Lubizec by Patrick Hicks
Euphoria by Lily King
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
Foreign Gods, Inc. by Okey Ndibe
Marching to Zion by Mary Glickman
Neverhome by Laird Hunt
The Orphans of Race Point by Patry Francis
Painted Horses by Malcolm Brooks
Prayers for the Stolen by Jennifer Clement
The Promise by Ann Weisgarber
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
An Untamed State by Roxane Gay
What is Visible by Kimberly Elkins
Where Somebody Waits by Margaret Kaufman
The World of Rae English by Lucy Rosenthal

Upcoming Series: In Dialogues with Writers

By Portland Thomas, NYU Florence, NYU class of 2016

As September draws to a close, La Pietra Dialogues will begin to host the In Dialogues With Writers series. The series will consist of talks with prominent authors and feature writing workshops that will be made available to NYU Florence students. This year the series will feature talented writers Jennifer Clement, Imma Vitelli and Elisa Biagini and will touch upon various social issues and topics including the European migration crisis, using literature as a form of social protest, and exploring the craft of writing and poetry.

The first dialogue of the series, “Walking on the Bones of Shadows: The Experience of Writing Prayers for the Stolen”, will occur on September 22nd at 6:00pm. The event will feature  NYU alum and writer Jennifer Clement, who will discuss the eleven years of research that went into writing her book Prayers of the Stolen, which discusses the child trafficking epidemic in rural Mexico.  Clement is a Mexican-American, award-winning writer who holds an MFA from the University of Southern Maine and whose work has been translated into 22 languages. This event will focus on the craft of writing and how to use writing and literature as tools to achieve social justice.

The second dialogue, “Escaping from Hyenas: From Eritrea to Lampedusa”, will occur on October 1st at 6:00pm. This dialogue will feature writer and journalist Imma Vitelli. Vitelli holds a degree in Journalism from Columbia University and is international correspondent for Italy’s Vanity Fair. She also writes a monthly column for Marie Claire magazine and is the author of Tahrir: i giovani che hanno fatto la rivoluzione, a book on the rebellion in Egypt, narrated through ten stories told from the perspective of the leaders of the uprisings. This dialogue will concentrate on Europe’s migration crisis and the reporting Vitelli has done on the migration routes between Africa and Italy for Vanity Fair Italy.

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“Urban Poetry: Mapping Florence with Words” will be the last dialogue of the series. This dialogue will occur on November 11th at 1:00pm and will feature writer and poet Elisa Biagini. Born in Florence, Biagini has taught, lived, and worked in Italy and the United States. She holds a Ph.D. from Rutgers University and has taught at NYU and Columbia University. Biagini has had her work featured in Italian and American journals including Women’s Studies and Poesia. Biagini will discuss poetry during the dialogue and will lead a workshop with the students to observe the lesser known dynamics of the city of Florence and to capture their observations through poetry.

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To attend these dialogues and writing workshops, RSVP at lapietra.dialogues@nyu.edu.

A Freshman’s Take on the Dialogue with Jennifer Clement

By Dina Juan, NYU Florence student, NYU class of 2018

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.

Something I had noted in Prayers was the poetic element in the story’s narration. Clement discussed the poetic voice and its significance beyond aesthetics. Utilizing imagery language to appeal to the senses is an important tool in developing an intimate relationship between the reader and the character.

Because of her success in creating almost tangible figures out of her story, Clement’s novel has developed a life beyond the bookshelf. Clement relayed her experiences in presenting the novel as both a work of literature and as a form of social protest; human rights organizations have taken interest in her work as a way of exposing the injustice and corruption created by the drug cartels in Mexico. This is groundbreaking because it exemplifies the role of art and literature in social and political realms.

The dialogue was my first encounter with NYU’s vast network of scholars and artists; I was able to meet an influential author and learn from her the dynamic role of literature in both art and politics. I look forward to the coming events and meeting more figures who can share how to utilize interests and skills to create impact in society.

The World of Women

by Dina Juan, NYU Florence, NYU class of 2018

In Prayers for the Stolen, Jennifer Clement takes her reader by the hand and leads them to the mountains of Guerrero, Mexico, into the adobe two-room home of Ladydi Garcia Martinez. Ladydi lives in a “land of women”. Men chase opportunities and futures down the highway while mothers and daughters are left in an isolated community, their survival dependent on sharpened senses and hardened mentalities.

Jennifer Clement

Clement drew inspiration for the novel from conversations with actual women of Guerrero who spoke of digging holes in corn fields to hide their daughters from traffickers. In the novel, Ladydi and her friends learn to listen for the roars of the drug lords’ SUVs. They hide in holes dug in their backyards and wait for the the jungle to breathe again. Through Ladydi’s eyes we peek into the world of the women of Guerrero: we run with her to escape the herbicide showers from government helicopters sent to kill poppy fields, we watch her mother drink her sadness in beer and tequila. When her astonishingly beautiful friend, Paula, is stolen, we feel in our chests a stinging certainty of what is going to happen to her.

Fear and trouble loom over Ladydi’s world like the vultures that prey on carcasses discarded on her lonely mountain. In Prayers for the Stolen, we find ourselves in the middle of an ongoing struggle to survive, but along the way we familiarize ourselves with the reality of women’s unbreakable spirit and strength.

The Victory of the Scottish ‘No’ Vote

By Davide Lombardo, NYU Florence Professor

The victory of the Scottish ´NO´ vote was largely expected. The Scottish nation (no need for a history or political science degree, everybody with a passion for Rugby knows it is a Nation) will not gain its own independent government and will not leave the Union with the other three Nations of the UK.

From the EU perspective at the institutional level, it is one headache taken off a long list. In the case of a victory of the ´YES´ vote, the likely domino effect in other areas in Europe would have triggered a major crisis at the continental level. However, the results of the Scottish vote warn us that the spectre of small countries, triggered back in the early 1990s with the Yugoslavian war and the dissolution of Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union, 25 years down the line may be backfiring in Western Europe. How are such small governments to survive the political and economic challenges of the old and new giants, the U.S., Russia, China, India, and Brazil?

The countries of Europe should be giving some sort of political answer to the above question.

A Few Words on Last Night’s Dialogue: The History of the EU

Last night NYU Florence Professor Davide Lombardo provided NYU Florence students an overview of the history of the European Union and challenged the progressive view of EU history as a linear process that has led to ever deeper unity and stability on the continent since World War II, emphasizing the shifting nature of borders and the conflicts and ruptures (the war in Yugoslavia in the early 1990s served as a prime example), that have characterized recent European history.

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Raising a recent case in point, NYU student Carmen Ataman-Plasencia, in the question and answer session, asked Professor Lombardo about a recent statement by Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy Brey that Scottland, if it votes for independence from the UK, would have to reapply for membership in the European Union.

The EU in Focus: The History of the EU from La Pietra Dialogues NYU on Vimeo.

Check back soon for the full video of last night’s Dialogue. Follow the results of today’s vote in Scottland here.

The Power of The European Union

By Allison Reid, NYU Florence student, NYU class of 2016

September 10th Professor Nicolò Conti gave the first talk in La Pietra Dialogues’ annual EU in Focus series: EU Institutions and Decision-Making Processes. Conti, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University Unitelma Sapienza of Rome and Professor of Comparative Politics at NYU Florence, focused much of the discussion on the structure of the European Union and how each body within the institution affects interactions among its member states and within the larger international community.

Professor Conti began by explaining that the European Union does not compare to any other institution in the world. One key aspect in the EU’s continued success is the fact that the institution is a voluntary process that promotes unity. Unlike most nation-building processes which resort to force to achieve political power, the EU ensures peace among member states by offering both protection and stability. Consequently, since the creation of the European Union, war has not broken out within or between its member countries.

During the presentation a student raised the following question: How do all of the different ideologies and policies of each nation work cohesively to achieve common objectives? In response, Professor Conti noted the principle of cooperation inherent in the EU, which often requires ministers and lawmakers  to prioritize EU interests above national interests for the benefit of  all member states. This concept is fundamental in developing a culture of consensus within the European Union. The EU’s principle of collective responsibility encourages each member to accept, adopt, and defend policies regardless of national objections.

Despite the international stature of the European Union, however, a student questioned the extent of the EU’s involvement in international crises. According to Professor Conti, foreign policy is arguably the least-integrated policy within the EU. Whereas many of the member states share a currency – thus making trade and the economy main priorities for the EU agenda – the diverse array of foreign relations, nested interests, political backgrounds, and histories inherent in each member state makes it extremely difficult to create a functional and cohesive foreign policy at the supranational level. Therefore, despite it being seen as a unified actor comprised of multiple nations, the EU is not represented as a single entity in any other international body, such as the United Nations.

Professor Conti left his audience with one final question: What should the EU move toward: an intergovernmental or supranational organization? He asked students to consider the possibility of states maintaining separate policies while simultaneously adopting the policies of the EU, or, antithetically, states conceding much of their reserved powers to a centralized supranational organization. The general consensus was  that only time would tell the direction that the European Union will take.

NYU Florence student interviews from 2013-2014

NYU Florence students and University of Florence students on the Role of Women in Politics

A group of NYU Florence students, led by Antonio Corrado, an MA candidate in Italian Studies at NYU Florence, went to the University of Florence to find out what Italian university students think about the role of women in politics. NYU Junior Kayla Malone also shares her reflections. The film was shown at La Pietra Dialogues’ fall Era of Political Sea-Change: From the Transformation of Parties to the Role of Women Dialogue on October 11-12, 2013

Role of Women in Politics as seen by University of Florence and NYU Florence students from La Pietra Dialogues NYU on Vimeo.

NYU Florence students’ interview with Florence’s No Dump Collective

NYU Florence students Katrina Chua and Jay Saltik interviewed Florence’s No Dump collective following the Dialogue Street Art in Florence: Politics and Practice at NYU Florence on December 5, 2013 at Villa Sassetti.

NYU Florence students interview No Dump from La Pietra Dialogues NYU on Vimeo.