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Publisher's Summary

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 20th 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.

©2019 Saidiya Hartman (P)2019 HighBridge, a division of Recorded Books

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What listeners say about Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments

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Utterly beautiful!

Saidiya Hartman has produced a gift of deep love. Her careful attention to the lives of Black women, who society has cast as unimportant, deviant, menial, and forgettable, is both a masterful, poignant mourning and celebration of persistent freedom dreams. This soulful book offers both intimate portraits and a fuller history of the social landscape of the early twentieth-century than typically disclosed. Wayward Lives is a lush elaboration of Hartman's many meditations on what is possible to uncover when the archive is scant and violent. As a writer and student, I am thankful for this book which is a masterclass. As a Black woman, I am thankful for Hartman's commitment to seeing us, caring for us, loving us, and imagining an otherwise.
Wayward Lives challenges everyone to take up the work of waywardness, committing to freedom.

6 people found this helpful

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Unique and brilliant.

Uniquely brilliant in methodology. Must be read with your eyes and ears. Honors the lives and women who by their legacy taught us how to not just survive but thrive in an environment designed to destroy them.

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Just wonderful!

I love the insertion into the historical narrative the lives of ordinary Black women making a way out of no way, a celebration and a revolutionary use of the archive to humanize those who were marginalized, Penalized and exploited - mothers-cousin sisters-daughters, ancestors and descendants. Queer radicals at the center of possibility & emancipation. We/I/you are uplifted and made visible.👏🏾👏🏾👏🏾

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Necessary

This is one of the most important books you will read this year. The audio version is excellent.

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Crucial but glorious read

It is important to educate yourself about these Black women and their stories. This history of Black women needs to be told and heard. Beautifully written!

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Not a good experience

I am old fashion, I prefer my history to come from actual experiences from the documented past, not a made up version based on the author’s imagined lives of her subjects. I suggest the author write historical fiction.

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Would 'We' ever be able to formally eulogize racism?

What does freedom mean and look like to Black people?

"Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way". Viktor Frankl

"Those who dared refuse the gender norms and social conventions of sexual propriety - monogamy, heterosexuality, and marriage - or failed to abide by the script of female respectability were targeted as potential prostitutes, vagrants, deviants, and incorrigible children". Saidiya Hartman.

1890 - 1935 was an evolution, a revolution of Black intimate life. A desire to live life unrestrictive in a new world - The Ghetto. Drunk with freedom, escaping lives of forced servitude. The North became an altered version of the South. The Ghetto, the slum, the tenements is in fact the plantation extended into the city. Black Folks ran from the South to the North hoping for and expecting a form of freedom and a better way of life. There were always laws that were manipulated ad lib to continue to suppress and oppress. North and South were just directions on a map. Black life - poor Black girls unable to or the beholders unwilling to view these Beautiful Lives, these Beautiful Experiments as thinkers or having the capability to contribute anything to better their lives or society. Labeled as criminals and pathology in the eyes of racist, Black Folks would continue to live defying societal norms at every juncture.

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what a wonderful book

I loved the writing style and the stories. I would highly recommend it to everyone.

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A Great Book

Well-written, well-narrated. this book really made me think about inequality in our society today, and in particular about how I can't believe Jeff Bezos made so much money while Amazon workers contracted COVID-19 due to unsafe workplace policies with minimal hazard pay and were fired (and in some cases smeared and ruined) for organizing for dignified working conditions.