Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments
WINNER OF THE NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD
SHORTLISTED FOR THE JAMES TAIT BLACK PRIZE 2020
At the dawn of the twentieth century, black women in the US were carving out new ways of living. The first generations born after emancipation, their struggle was to live as if they really were free.
These women refused to labour like slaves. Wrestling with the question of freedom, they invented forms of love and solidarity outside convention and law. These were the pioneers of free love, common-law and transient marriages, queer identities, and single motherhood – all deemed scandalous, even pathological, at the dawn of the twentieth century, though they set the pattern for the world to come.
In Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments, Saidiya Hartman deploys both radical scholarship and profound literary intelligence to examine the transformation of intimate life that they instigated. With visionary intensity, she conjures their worlds, their dilemmas, their defiant brilliance.
Revelatory... Thrilling to read because it invents a genre as deft and adventurous as the lives it chronicles -- Sam Huber * The Nation * Kaleidoscopic....In granting these forgotten women a voice, and conjuring their longing for freedom, Hartman resists the century-long diminution of their lives to social problems....The result is an effect more usually associated with fiction than history, of inspiring a powerful imaginative empathy - not only towards characters in the distant past but towards the strangers all around us, whose humanity we share -- Joanna Scutts * New Republic * 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 * A radical, genre-defying examination of the lives of 'ordinary' young Black women ... Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments offers a blistering critique of historical archives as the singular or even most authoritative source of credible knowledge -- Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor * Los Angeles Review of Books * Brilliant... A virtuosic work of scholarship that recovers fragments of the lives of women who were supposed to be forgotten. As a result of her formidable research, stunning erudition, translucent prose and bold imagination, Saidiya Hartman reanimates their lives. Readers will not be able to forget them -- Cheryl A. Wall * Times Higher Education *
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