This genre-bending book spotlights the intimate lives of young Black women and their remarkable yet often overlooked contributions to art, music, literature, and social movements in early 20th century New York City. Richly textured and movingly rendered, their stories in Hartman's careful hands indelibly disrupted and expanded my ideas of what historical non-fiction could be, both as a mode of radical attention and reparative imagination. Recommended By Alexa W., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
Beautifully written and deeply researched, Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments examines the revolution of black intimate life that unfolded in Philadelphia and New York at the beginning of the twentieth century. In wrestling with the question "What is a free life?", many young black women created forms of intimacy and kinship indifferent to the dictates of respectability and outside the bounds of law. They cleaved to and cast off lovers, exchanged sex to subsist, and revised the meaning of marriage. Longing and desire fueled their experiments in how to live. They refused to labor like slaves or to accept degrading conditions of work. Here, for the first time, these women are credited with shaping a cultural movement that transformed the urban landscape. Through a melding of history and literary imagination, Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments recovers their radical aspirations and insurgent desires.
"A startling, dazzling act of resurrection…Hartman has granted these forgotten, ‘wayward’ women a new life…[She] challenges us to see, finally, who they really were: beautiful, complex, and multidimensional — whole people — who dared to live by their own rules, somehow making a way out of no way at all." Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow
"I was inspired, surprised and deeply moved....[Hartman’s] mode is intimate, radical and always alive to the details." Leslie Jamison , New York Times Book Review
"Ambitious, original...a beautiful experiment in its own right." Maggie Nelson, author of The Argonauts
About the Author
Saidiya Hartman is the author of Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments, Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route and Scenes of Subjection. A MacArthur "Genius" Fellow, she has been a Guggenheim Fellow, Cullman Fellow, and Fulbright Scholar. She is a professor at Columbia University and lives in New York.