“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 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.