Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Social Upheaval

Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Social Upheaval

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, serial partners, cohabitation outside of wedlock, 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 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.


Beautifully written and deeply researched, Wayward Lives recreates 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. For the first time, young black 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.

Title:Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Social Upheaval
ISBN:9780393285673

    Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Social Upheaval Reviews

  • Katya Kazbek

    It's so rare and beautiful to read a book that just oozes information and ideas that you hadn't come across before, and even though reading this was not always easy, I was in for a spectacular treat. ...

  • Katie/Doing Dewey

    Summary: A lovely, unique history that highlights the radical, innovative social lives that black women shaped for themselves during the Jim Crow era.I was immediately drawn to the concept of this boo...

  • Cavak

    After reading Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments, a sensation that I couldn't quite name resonated in me. I was moved, I was amazed. The lines were savored by me, so curious and yet so profound. Som...

  • Larry

    Devastatingly good. The best book I've read so far this year. Opens one's eyes to new possibilities in understanding the experiences of turn-of-the-century African Americans....

  • Weckea

    Hartman does it again. The absolute best scholar and thinker and writer in (all of) the academy. It's a must read for everybody....

  • Lalaa

    A beautiful portrayal of black women that left me with the profound feeling that there are more stories like these that are left to be told. I loved reading about the lives of the relatively unknown b...

  • Hailey

    I love this book!!! Stories of strong women have always been my favorite:)...

  • Amy

    Wonderfully compelling! I couldn't put it down! Felt like I took a step back in time and had a front row seat in these women's lives. So moving!...

  • Jess

    I loved the first few sections of Wayward Lives and the way Hartman describes her project. I soon found the repetition and lack of citations for easily sourced stats frustrating. The terms wayward and...

  • Azabu

    Drawing from a deep archival well Hartman , a Columbia University professor, delivers an engrossing album of black female rebels from the early 20th century, identifying them as ‘radical thinkers wh...