Hillary Clinton Speaks Candidly at PEN World Voices


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Hillary Clinton speaking with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie at PEN World Voices Festival.

Emily Fagel, Theater and Books Editor

Hillary Clinton is going to keep talking.

The 2016 Democratic presidential nominee and former secretary of state is not going to let her election defeat, or what anyone is saying about it, keep her from speaking up. Clinton emphasized this and the broader importance of freedom of speech on April 22 at Cooper Union. Clinton delivered a speech and then sat down with author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for a discussion as part of the PEN World Voices Festival headline event.

Clinton delivered PEN’s annual Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Lecture, named after the playwright who championed free expression within PEN. After a brief, adulatory introduction by PEN’s Chief Executive Officer Suzanne Nossel — a former State Department staffer under Clinton — the first lady-turned-candidate walked onstage and received a long standing ovation. She wore a gray pantsuit.

In what was not so much a lecture as it was a call to action, Clinton spoke for about an hour about the importance of free speech and free press. She discussed new books and post-election studies, brought up world-spanning current events and touched on her own experiences in a powerful, rousing speech. She barely looked at her notes.

“It should go without saying, but I’ll say it,” Clinton said. “Celebrating and protecting the power of the written word is more important at this moment than any time in recent history.”

The highlight of the evening was not Clinton’s speech, though. She subsequently sat down with Adichie, acclaimed author of “Americanah,” and chatted candidly about her life and legacy.

Adichie was effortlessly charming and funny. She made it clear that she was a large fan of Clinton from the outset, and frequently interrupted their back-and-forth with opinionated anecdotes that documented her support for the icon.

The Nigerian author ended the evening with a request that resonated with teary-eyed audience members in the Great Hall. She implored Clinton to not let the constant barrage of negative criticism she faces obfuscate just how much she means to so many people.

Clinton explained that she’s conscious of this and embarrassed by how much she means to some. This is what motivates her to continue speaking about her experiences.

“I wouldn’t be a good example if I, you know, kinda gave up and went off into the woods forever,” Clinton said. “I did have to come out of the woods. [And] when I did, I thought, okay, you know, this is a new chapter, and I have a lot of feelings about what’s happening, and I’m going to keep talking.”


Email Emily Fagel at [email protected].