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

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“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 “What is a free life?”, 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 recovers their radical aspirations and insurgent desires.

“Ambitious, original . . . a beautiful experiment in its own right.” ― Maggie Nelson, author of The Argonauts

67 black and white illustrations

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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. 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.

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