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Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments

Nonfiction: Social Science
Unabridged   10 hour(s)
Publication date: 04/09/2019

National Book Critics Circle Finalist

Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments

Intimate Histories of Social Upheaval

Available from major retailers or BUY FROM AMAZON
Audio CD ISBN:9781684418732
Digital Download ISBN:9781684418749


A breathtaking exploration of the lives of young black women in the early twentieth century.

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Product Description

In Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments, Saidiya Hartman examines the revolution of black intimate life that unfolded in Philadelphia and New York at the beginning of the twentieth century. Free love, common-law and transient marriages, queer relations, and single motherhood were among the sweeping changes that altered the character of everyday life and challenged traditional Victorian beliefs about courtship, love, and marriage. Hartman narrates the story of this radical social transformation against the grain of the prevailing century-old argument about the crisis of the black family.

In wrestling with the question of what a free life is, many young black women created forms of intimacy and kinship that were indifferent to the dictates of respectability. 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.

Beautifully written and deeply researched, Wayward Lives re-creates the experience of young urban black women who desired an existence qualitatively different than the one that had been scripted for them—domestic service, second-class citizenship, and respectable poverty—and whose intimate revolution was apprehended as crime and pathology.


“Lucid and original—of considerable interest to students of the African-American diaspora and American social and cultural history.” —Kirkus

“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

Author Bio

Saidiya Hartman is the author of Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments, Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route, and Scenes of Subjection. She is a Guggenheim Fellow and has been a Cullman Fellow and Fulbright Scholar. She is a professor at Columbia University and lives in New York.