Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments

Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments

Intimate Histories of Social Upheaval

Book - 2019
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Traces a time of radical transformation of black life in early twentieth-century America, revealing how a large number of black women forged relationships, families, and jobs that were more empowered and typically indifferent to moral dictates.
Publisher: New York :, W.W. Norton & Company,, [2019]
Edition: First edition.
ISBN: 9780393285673
Branch Call Number: 305.48896 HA
Characteristics: xxi, 441 pages : illustrations, portraits, charts, facsimiles ; 25 cm


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Mar 31, 2019

I'm in tears. This book makes use of complexity, the unknown, visionary imagination, and relentlessly critical research in ways that I've never encountered, and uplifts queer and transgressive Black "minor figures" from underneath the erasure of Jim Crow.

Endnotes are everywhere in the text, but (like searching for the radicals who turned their backs to sociologists' surveys and "social betterment" photographers -- the predecessors of the nonprofit industrial complex) you have to sense as a reader when there's more context to uncover. The author doesn't indicate when to turn to the back of the book; you have to do that by instinct.

I wish that Hartman had used different language to describe sex workers' labor, because it's clear that she celebrates their autonomy, dignity, and struggles for survival. I also wonder why she uses "he" pronouns for Gladys Bentley at first (instead of the singular "they", maybe?), and then later uses "she" for Gladys at the end of the book -- not criticizing this choice, but curious.

Overall, this book is incredible and I'm still processing the people Hartman venerates, and the tactics she uses to celebrate their visionary optimism, deviance, and survival.


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