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Jennifer Clement

President of PEN International and author of Gun Love

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  • About Jennifer Clement

    Jennifer Clement addresses the crucial issues of today through the lens of fiction. Her books sit on an “iceberg of research” that bring a breathtaking realism to her stories. In Prayers for the Stolen, a haunting story of love and survival, she provides an illuminating portrait of women in rural Mexico, where drug lords are kings and daughters are in constant danger. An Irish Times Book of the Year, Prayers for the Stolen was also a finalist for the PEN/Faulker Prize. Her latest novel, Gun Love, is an unforgettable story of a mother and daughter whose life is confined to a ’94 Mercury in the midst of a sea of guns. A New York Times Editor’s Choice, Gun Love was longlisted for the National Book Awards and was included on numerous “Best Books of 2018” lists, including in Time and Library Journal. It is currently being adapted for a feature film. Clement is also known for her beautifully written biography of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s partner and muse, Suzanne Mallouk. In Widow Basquiat, Clement brings the reader deep into an affair that epitomized the mesmerizing, wild landscape of 1980s New York City.

    In 2015, Clement was elected president of PEN International, the first woman to be elected to this role since the organization was founded in 1921. As president, she created the “PEN International Women’s Manifesto,” which proclaims that “For women to have free speech, the right to read, the right to write, they need to have the right to roam physically, socially and intellectually.” Her manifesto has since transcended PEN and has been adopted by organizations around the world.

    From 2009 to 2012, Clement was president of PEN Mexico, where she focused on investigating the disappearance and killing of journalists. She is the co-founder and director of San Miguel Poetry Week, along with her sister, Barbara Sibley. Clement studied English literature and anthropology at New York University and also studied French literature in Paris, France. She has an MFA in fiction from the Stonecoast MFA program at the University of Southern Maine. She currently lives in Mexico City.

  • Speaking Topics

    Prayers for the Stolen

    In Prayers for the Stolen, Jennifer Clement portrayed an illuminating and affecting portrait of women in rural Mexico suffering the hidden consequences of an unjust war. A lifelong resident of Mexico, Clement conducted extensive and often dangerous research into the victims of the drug trade while writing her novel. In this talk, she invites audiences into her process while unveiling the reality of the damage wrought on women by cartels and human trafficking.

    Gun Love

    In Gun Love, Jennifer Clement explores the motivations behind America’s gun culture through the lens of fiction, from avid hunters to those who want to protect their families, to those who seek to foster a sense of danger. In this lecture, Clement talks about her inspiration and the research behind this critically-acclaimed novel.

    Widow Basquiat

    Widow Basquiat is the incredible story of Suzanne Mallouk, a runaway who met and fell in love with Jean-Michel Basquiat in the years before his death. In this talk about their tumultuous relationship, Jennifer Clement brings audiences into New York City in the 1980s: a hotbed for underground culture and creative energy that she experienced firsthand.

    A Woman’s Manifesto

    As the first woman elected as PEN International’s president since its founding in 1921, Jennifer Clement wanted her organization to commit to the safety and support of women writers around the world. The resulting manifesto has since transcended PEN and been adopted by organizations around the world. In this talk, Clement addresses freedom of speech, women’s rights, and the creative process behind her lyrically-written, powerful manifesto.

  • Video

  • Praise for Jennifer Clement

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    Wow! Words fail. Jennifer Clement is astounding.

    Literary Sojourn

    Praise for Gun Love

    Clement’s latest is made memorable by the resilient Pearl, whose worldview is shaped both by the harsh, gun-saturated realities of the trailer park and by her mother’s past with its piano lessons and fine china. This unusual and impressive novel is carried by her tough, lyrical voice.

    Library Journal

    Clement’s affecting and memorable novel is also an incisive social commentary that will give readers much to ponder.

    Publishers Weekly

    Pearl’s story takes place in a world both strange and familiar, in the fairy tale of her mother’s imagination and in an America pockmarked by gun violence and poverty. Readers will root for Pearl to—somehow—reconcile the two visions, even as fate forces her hand. Clement’s quiet tragedy is moving, unsettling, and filled with characters who will haunt you long after the story ends.

    Kirkus

    …Clement is a brilliant stylist; her figurative language is far more than fine; her metaphors and similes are superb; and together they create a haunting atmosphere—sometimes fey, occasionally whimsical, no stranger to tragedy but always heartfelt and spot-on, as are her beautifully realized, captivating characters. Though suigeneris, her work may remind some readers of Flannery O’Connor’s. Always evocative, it is an unforgettable knockout not to be missed.

    Booklist (starred)

    Jennifer Clement is a master at creating worlds that feel like tiny dioramas —modern allegories, reflecting and responding to social issues while still feeling contained and mystical, like something you’d see inside of the world’s most ornate snow globe, or a theme park — that is, until politics invade these worlds, and these worlds become recognizable as ones that exist both on and off the page.

    Miami Rail Review

    It’s been a long time since I’ve been so mesmerized with a novel’s each next sentence. Jennifer Clement is one of our most inventive novelists. There’s no telling what she’ll see. Whatever it is, it’s something right in front of us, but—here is the magic trick—something we have never before seen. Gun Love is an amazement: fierce, inventive, tender.

    Rick Bass

    [T]hat this novel cast a deep spell on me that has yet to subside. Clement relays Pearl’s trouble-strewn story in the kind of prose that gets called “poetic”: it’s taut, spare, musical, metaphor-laden, haunting, and every so often hits you so hard in the gut that you gasp.

    Jonathan Miles, BookPage

    Though this world is harrowing, it’s also fortified with ample wit and tenderness. The sweet sorrow of doomed maternal love is at the novel’s thrumming center, as is the author’s cockeyed affection for the region. “In our part of Florida everything was puzzled,” Pearl tells us. Gun Love potently illuminates this puzzled land, and the complicated fates of those who dwell in the pockets visitors won’t find on a map.

    O: The Oprah Magazine

    Clement creates a weird poetry of murderous force. Chekhov’s narrative principle—that a gun hung on the wall in the first act must eventually go off—has become a metaphorical rule of storytelling. To reflect American reality, Ms Clement puts a gun on every wall in every room.

    The Economist

    Through a memorable coming-of-age story set in America’s margins, Clement makes all of these things true at once: A gun is a valentine, a secret-bearer, a penitent, a world destroyer, an exposed belly, an insurance policy, a sudden act of God.

    Salon

    This book feel like a great lost murder ballad by the likes of Johnny Cash or Nick Cave…There are echoes here of other great chroniclers of violence, such as Cormac McCarthy, and this is one of those rare books that the reader might wish to be a few dozen pages longer, to spend some more time in this fully realised world.

    Alexander Larman, The Observer

    Offer[s] a glimpse of what a poetics of gun violence might look like… In this book, the machinery of violence purchases a sense of belonging—of thrilling, life-or-death simplicity.

    Katy Waldman, TheNewYorker.com

    Praise for Prayers for the Stolen

    Prayers for the Stolen is a magnificent story, filled with a wisdom so dense and ancient as to seem almost unbearable. One wants to turn away, but cannot. It’s a mesmerizing read, illustrative of the idea that even traces of beauty, deeply felt, can help carry a traveler through the harshest landscape, or the harshest life.

    Rick Bass, author of Why I Came West

    The most enchanting journey I’ve taken in a long, long time, and the most important. Prayers For The Stolen is a hand-guided tour through a ruthless true corner of our century, with characters so alive they will burrow into your heart. Stunningly written, magically detailed, you see, smell and taste the action on every page, feel every foible, and miss the candor of these funny, achingly human voices long after you put them down. As the heroine herself might say: not something to read but to lick off a plate.

    DBC Pierre, Man Booker Prize-winning author of Vernon God Little

    Highly original…[Clement’s] prose is poetic in the true sense: precise as a scalpel, lyrical without being indulgent.

    The Guardian

    Clement is more a poet than a documentarian, and the girls and women of the village she chronicles are complex individuals…Clement treats the brutal material honestly…and ultimately allows Ladydi to continue to hope.

    Publishers Weekly

    Compelling…Just beautiful…Really, really beautiful.

    Diane Rehm, NPR

    With Prayers for the Stolen, Jennifer Clement has cracked open, rewired, and madly reimagined the coming-of-age narrative through the eyes and mind of an ingenious and wise young woman. This book is a glorious fever dream of honesty and love.”

    Patrick Somerville, author of This Bright River

    The theme of Prayers for the Stolen is the wanton violence inflicted on women and the destruction of communities as a result of the drug trade in Mexico, but Clement’s eye for the revealing detail, the simple poetry of her language and the visceral authenticity of her characters turn that deadening reality into a compelling, tragically beautiful novel.

    Yann Martel, author of Life of Pi

    The author builds a powerful narrative whose images re-create an alarming reality that not everyone has dared to address but that everyone has definitely heard. Let’s pray for spoons.

    El Paso Times

    [A] beautiful, heart-rending novel…Fiercely observed comparisons of human and inanimate life form a continuing motif throughout the story…[Clement] achieves the formidable feat of smooth, clear English that pulses with an energy and sensibility that is convincingly Latin American… So compelling…Prayers for the Stolen is a powerful read.

    The Wall Street Journal

    Praise for Widow Basquiat

    A brilliant account of the relationship between Basquiat and his muse and lover … a compelling book that leaves a giant sized lump in the throat … Clement hypnotises us with a vivid portrait of Basquiat, powerfully evoking his inventiveness as an artist.

    Independent on Sunday

    An engrossing narrative… Clement offers far more clues to the cryptic symbols which litter his [Basquiat’s] paintings than any art critic could.

    The Times

    A beautifully evocative, poetic memoir … Basquiat was aware of the criteria with which posterity would judge him. Widow Basquiat should be part of those criteria.

    The Herald

    Provocative…With short, episodic chapters, Clement (Prayers for the Stolen, 2014, etc.) delivers real insight into the life of the brilliant artist as well as the glittering—but ultimately chaotic—world that consumed him…Disturbing and poetic.

    Kirkus Reviews

    Magical…. Widow Basquiat conjures real characters, a real time and real place. It’s not theory – it’s representation. … The life of Basquiat … is a joyous lightning bolt when it is described in true detail, as it is in Clement’s extraordinary as-told-to poem.

    Artforum

    Stunningly lyrical . . . Original, insightful, and engrossing. . . . While filled with pop culture anecdotes art fans might seek—Andy Warhol and Rene Ricard both make appearances, for instance—Clement’s account is an honest love story above all else

    Publisher's Weekly
  • Books by Jennifer Clement

  • Media About Jennifer Clement

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