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Mexican-American writer, Jennifer Clement, elected first woman president to lead PEN International as John Ralston Saul steps down after six years

Thursday 15 October 2015 - 7:59pm


15 October 2015

Canadian writer, John Ralston Saul steps down as president of PEN International after six years after the election of Jennifer Clement. Clement, a Mexican-American writer, is the first woman to be elected as leader of PEN International. 

Quebec City – PEN International’s Assembly of Delegates has elected renowned Mexican writer, Jennifer Clement, as the president of the organization at the 81st PEN International Congress. Jennifer Clement is the first woman writer to be elected to the post.

Upon her election Jennifer Clement said: 'Thank you to all of you. Everyone is saying congratulations. But this is not a prize, it's not an award. It's an act of trust. I hope that I am worthy of your trust.'

Jennifer Clement grew up in Mexico City, Mexico. She studied English Literature and Anthropology at New York University and also studied French Literature in Paris, France. She has an MFA from the University of Southern Maine.  Clement is fluent in both Spanish and English and has studied French.

From 2009 to 2012, Clement was president of PEN Mexico and her work focused on the disappearance and killing of journalists. Her writing and activism represent a lifelong commitment to honouring those silenced by gender, class and race. In 2014 she was awarded the Sara Curry Humanitarian Award for her novel Prayers for the Stolen that involved over ten years of research on the abduction of young girls in Mexico. She is currently working on a novel about gun violence and the gun trade, both legal and illegal.

Canadian writer John Ralston Saul leaves the post of International President after six years, with the heartfelt thanks of the entire PEN community from across the globe. During his time, he has guided the organization with unending energy, dedication and wisdom.

John has always been passionately devoted to the freedom to write and publish without fear of persecution and death. That is the freedom that PEN defends. And the fight for this freedom has become more and more important as the 21st Century has augmented the traditional forms of intolerance and repressions with new forms of those things. Thank you John for everything that you have done for writers and journalists around the world and for their freedom. You have always given over and above. It is very much appreciated.’ – Margaret Atwood, Vice-president of PEN International.

‘Deep love and deep gratitude for who you are and what you’ve done; for personal courage in hostile territory; for patience and skillful perseverance in the face of the world’s relentless indifference.’ Leonard Cohen.

John’s love and work for justice and humanity has been like a hurricane which has navigated PEN through dangerous waters to free speech. To him we owe the re-birth of PEN in Latin America. We love and him and will never forget what he has done for us.’ – Giaconda Belli, president of PEN Nicaragua.

John’s message to us all has always been clear. As writers we must be the voice for those who have been silenced and cannot speak for themselves. Thank you John.’ - Dr Ma Thida, president of PEN Myanmar.

In our 90-year history, PEN International has had some illustrious leaders –- such as H.G. Wells and John Galsworthy. You and I were not there at that time. But in this day and age, we can say with confidence that John Ralston Saul has been the best president of PEN International.’ – Haroon Siddiqui