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. “Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments” is a visionary journey into the defiant lives of black women during Jim Crow era / Great migration, which breaks molds and stereotypes by showing how they broke molds and stereotypes, while threatened with incarceration, poverty, homelessness and disenfranchisement. I can’t even begin to describe all the ways in which this book is groundbreaking and important.
First, it crushes the tired narratives of Jim Crow era black women as kindly matronly housekeepers, and lets them reclaim their agency, sexuality, queerness and independence. Second, it shows how the black women had laid out the foundations of the sexual revolution way before their white counterparts even came close to it. Third, it’s just an amazing updated guide to the progressive figures of the era: while such run-of-the-mill yet problematic reformists as W.E.B.DuBois and MW Ovington make appearances, they are there for contrast, and the limelight rightfully goes to a whole cast of brilliant women and genderqueer people, who did not spend time on ideology but instead changed the world through their subversive, beautiful lives. This book is a long overdue memorial to their sacrifices.
Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Social Upheaval by Saidiya V. Hartman
Published by W. W. Norton & Company in 2019