Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments
WINNER OF THE PEN/JOHN KENNETH GALBRAITH AWARD FOR NONFICTION 2021
SHORTLISTED FOR A JAMES TAIT BLACK PRIZE 2020
WINNER OF A NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD
BY THE RECIPIENT OF A MACARTHUR GENIUS GRANT
‘Ambitious, original… a beautiful experiment in its own right’ Maggie Nelson
‘A startling, dazzling act of resurrection’ Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow
‘Exhilarating….A rich resurrection of a forgotten history’ The New York Times
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. Their defeats were bitter, but their triumphs became the blueprint for a world that was waiting to be born.
These women refused to labour like slaves or to accept degrading conditions of work. 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. Wayward Lives recovers their radical aspirations and insurgent desires, their unfinished revolution in a minor key.
Ambitious, original... a beautiful experiment in its own right, to be set beside the many attempts at living free that Hartman here chronicles with a keen sense of history, imagination, and love. * Maggie Nelson, author of The Argonauts * Wayward Lives is a startling, dazzling act of resurrection... These remarkable black women were shamed, scorned, criminalized, studied, diagnosed and then erased from history. Yet now, Hartman 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 * With urgency and compassion, Hartman rescues the lives of young black women from the margins of history. Wayward Lives is a series of adventure stories that take the reader through the travails and triumphs of a multitude of black women, as they negotiate the perilous path of self-discovery at the turn of the twentieth century. In her impeccably researched new book, Hartman breathes glorious life into these true survival tales with the precision and invention of a master storyteller. * Lynn Nottage, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Sweat and Ruined * Wayward Lives unsorts the archive looking for the errant, the unruly, the gorgeously disarranged paths of fugitive black girls. Fleeing from respectability, the good, the right and the true, the black girls that interest Hartman are everyday revolutionaries or what she calls 'chorines, bulldaggers, aesthetical negroes, socialists, lady lovers, pansies and anarchists.' This book is a love song to the wayward, a riotous poem, a lyrical homage to the minor. It changes the way we do history, the way we constitute the political, and makes resistance newly visible in the ordinary. This book changes everything. * Jack Halberstam, author of Female Masculinity and The Queer Art of Failure * Saidiya Hartman tells a mesmerizing story with a multitude of women as its heroines, lifting up invisible black seekers within the cities of one hundred years ago to the light of memory and tribute. She uses the weapons of lyric and literature to steal 'colored women' away from the grasp of white lawmen and the clinical gaze, and along the way gives history what it lacks and wants-black women as secret agents of destiny, deep lives from the unnamed crowd, and underground sinners as the true sponsors of social change. * Edward Ball, author of Slaves in the Family * A masterpiece... The wayward lives and beautiful experiments in which Professor Hartman is interested can only be described and illuminated in wayward and experimental ways-not in analytic detachment but by joining the experiment, by engaging in its hard-won freedoms, its autonomous profligacies, its shifting directions... Hartman radically reimagines the very idea of the portrait... A truly great and groundbreaking book. * Fred Moten, professor of performance studies, New York University * Exhilarating....A rich resurrection of a forgotten history....[Hartman's] rigor and restraint give her writing its distinctive electricity and tension....This kind of beautiful, immersive narration exists for its own sake but it also counteracts the most common depictions of black urban life from this time. -- Parul Sehgal * New York Times * Lyrical and novelistic....This passionate, poetic retrieval of women from the footnotes of history is a superb literary achievement * Publisher's Weekly * How to honour the soft liquid rigour, the sharp vast tenderness, of a writer like Saidiya Hartman? ... For those of us who turn to the archive seeking comfort, looking for old ways of looking at new things, for redress to our subjugated history - this book is a balm and a pedagogic tool. Wayward Lives is a book that wants you to live. -- Imani Robinson and Ebun Sodipo * Wasafiri *
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