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Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Riotous Black Girls, Troublesome Women, and Queer Radicals Paperback – Illustrated, January 14, 2020

4.7 out of 5 stars 384 ratings

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From the Publisher

Editorial Reviews

Review

"I was inspired, surprised and deeply moved.…[Hartman's] mode is intimate, radical and always alive to the details."
Leslie Jamison, The New York Times Book Review

"Revelatory.… Wayward Lives is thrilling to read because it invents a genre as deft and adventurous as the lives it chronicles."
Sam Huber, The Nation

"Hartman has influenced an entire generation of scholars and afforded readers a proximity to the past that would otherwise be foreclosed."
MacArthur Foundation

"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

"Genre-bending literary history.… These are dishy, illuminating, and heartbreaking stories about the knotted relationship between desire and freedom."
Kat Stoeffel, Elle

"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. They will also learn much about the social forces that enabled and constrained their struggle to live in beauty and freedom."
Cheryl A. Wall, Cheryl A. Wall

"A radical, genre-defying examination of the lives of ‘ordinary’ young Black women.… As is redolent of all Hartman’s work, Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments offers a blistering critique of historical archives as the singular or even most authoritative source of credible knowledge.… [She] implores us to pause and consider who is inside of and outside of the archive; whose voice is heard and whose voice is silenced; whose lives matter and whose lives do not."
Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Los Angeles Review of Books

"This is scholarship as art imbued with a kind of discursive simultaneity that yields both eulogy and possibility.… [A] gorgeous, heartbreaking triumph of a book."
Daphne A. Brooks, New Inquiry

"A profound and painstaking act of reconstruction that renews our understanding of an era now largely faded from public memory.… A bravely wayward, unflinchingly hybrid book, perhaps best described as halfway between the novel and documentary history, but more than anything else it leaves me curious about where Saidiya Hartman’s thinking will take us next."
Jess Row, Bookforum

"Weaving in and out of disciplinary standards for both historical and archival works, Wayward Lives employs tools such as speculative imaginings and possibility to elaborate on the potential thoughts, wishes, and fears each character might have experienced. Hartman is at her most virtuosic in these moments of supposition, where entire pages, sections, and chapters hinge on key words like ‘perhaps,’ ‘maybe,’ and ‘possible.’ She deftly points to what we can never know about these figures while underlining what we know for sure: that they lived, struggled, thought, and loved."
Jehan Roberson, Public Books

About the Author

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

Product details

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ W. W. Norton & Company; Illustrated edition (January 14, 2020)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 464 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0393357627
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0393357622
  • Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 12.8 ounces
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 5.5 x 1.2 x 8.3 inches
  • Customer Reviews:
    4.7 out of 5 stars 384 ratings

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Customer reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5
384 global ratings

Top reviews from the United States

Reviewed in the United States on March 20, 2019
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Reviewed in the United States on April 1, 2019
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Reviewed in the United States on April 27, 2019
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Reviewed in the United States on December 29, 2019
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5.0 out of 5 stars Utterly beautiful!
By L.A. on December 29, 2019
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, to commit to freedom.
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18 people found this helpful
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Reviewed in the United States on March 14, 2019
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Reviewed in the United States on March 15, 2021
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5.0 out of 5 stars Would 'We' ever be able to formally eulogize racism?
By AuthorAnnaBella on March 15, 2021
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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Top reviews from other countries

christopher clark
5.0 out of 5 stars Sophisticated, evocative, enthralling
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on August 7, 2020
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2 people found this helpful
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Anynomous
5.0 out of 5 stars Breathtaking
Reviewed in Canada on January 6, 2020
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3 people found this helpful
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