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Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Riotous Black Girls, Troublesome Women, and Queer Radicals

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Winner of the 2019 National Book Critics Circle Award in Criticism
Winner of the PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award for Nonfiction
Winner of the 2020 Judy Grahn Award for Lesbian Nonfiction
Finalist for the Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Memoir/Biography

"Exhilarating…A rich resurrection of a forgotten history." —Parul Sehgal, New York Times

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 of what a free life is, 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 these women’s radical aspirations and insurgent desires.

ISBN-13: 9780393357622

Media Type: Paperback

Publisher: Norton W. W. & Company Inc.

Publication Date: 01-14-2020

Pages: 464

Product Dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.30(d)

Saidiya Hartman is the author of Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments, Lose Your Mother, Scenes of Subjection. She has been a MacArthur Fellow, Guggenheim Fellow, Cullman Fellow, and Fulbright Scholar. She is a University Professor at Columbia University and lives in New York.

Table of Contents

A Note on Method xiii

Cast of Characters xvii

Book 1 She Makes an Errant Path through the City

The Terrible Beauty of the Slum 3

A Minor Figure 13

An Unloved Woman 37

An Intimate History of Slavery and Freedom 45

Manual for General Housework 77

An Atlas of the Wayward 81

A Chronicle of Need and Want 123

In a Moment of Tenderness the Future Seems Possible 155

Book 2 The Sexual Geography of the Black Belt

1900. The Tenderloin. 241 West 41st Street 161

1909. 601 West 61st Street. A New Colony of Colored People, or Malindy in Little Africa 177

Mistah Beauty, the Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Woman, Select Scenes from a Film Never Cast by Oscar Micheaux, Harlem, 1920s 193

Family Albums, Aborted Futures: A Disillusioned Wife Becomes an Artist, 1890 Seventh Avenue 205

Book 3 Beautiful Experiments

Revolution in a Minor Key 217

Wayward: A Short Entry on the Possible 227

The Anarchy of Colored Girls Assembled in a Riotous Manner 229

The Arrested Life of Eva Perkins 257

Riot and Refrain 263

The Socialist Delivers a Lecture on Free Love 287

The Beauty of the Chorus 297

The Chorus Opens the Way 345

Acknowledgments 351

Notes 355

List of Illustrations 419

Index 425