Saidiya Hartman’s highly anticipated new book, Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Social Upheaval (Norton, February 2019) wrestles with the question, “What is a free life?”
In the early twentieth century, young black women were in open rebellion. A social revolution unfolded in the city. Hartman’s book explores the ways 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. In Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments, Hartman narrates the story of this radical transformation of black intimate and social life, crediting young black women with shaping a cultural movement that transformed the urban landscape. Combining historical analysis and literary imagination, Hartman recovers radical aspirations and resurgent desires.
Scholars Daphne Brooks, Aimee Meredith Cox, Macarena Gomez-Barris, and Tina Campt will join Saidiya Hartman to discuss this book’s vital contributions.
About the Speakers
Daphne Brooks is Professor of African American Studies, Theater Studies, American Studies, and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Yale University. She is the author of two books: Bodies in Dissent: Spectacular Performances of Race and Freedom, 1850-1910 (Duke University Press), winner of The Errol Hill Award for Outstanding Scholarship on African American Performance from ASTR; and Jeff Buckley’s Grace(Continuum). Brooks is currently working on a three-volume study of black women and popular music culture entitled Subterranean Blues: Black Women Sound Modernity. The first volume in the trilogy, Liner Notes for the Revolution: The Archive, the Critic, and Black Women’s Sound Cultures is forthcoming from Harvard University Press. Brooks is also the author of the liner notes for The Complete Tammi Terrell(Universal A&R, 2010) and Take a Look: Aretha Franklin Complete on Columbia (Sony, 2011), each of which has won the ASCAP Deems Taylor Award for outstanding music writing. She is the editor of The Great Escapes: The Narratives of William Wells Brown, Henry Box Brown, and William Craft. From 2016-2018, she served as the co-editor of the 33 1/3 Sound: Short Books About Albums series published by Bloomsbury Press. In January 2017, Brooks served as the chief curator of “Blackstar Rising & The Purple Reign: Celebrating the Legacies of David Bowie and Prince,” a four-day international conference and concert event held at Yale University.
Tina Campt is Claire Tow and Ann Whitney Olin Professor of Africana and Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies at Barnard College. Campt joined the Barnard faculty in 2010, prior to which she held faculty positions at Duke University, the University of California-Santa Cruz and the Technical University of Berlin. Originally trained in modern German history at Cornell University, Professor Campt’s published work explores gender, racial and diasporic formation in black communities in Germany, and Europe more broadly. She is the author of three books. Other Germans: Black Germans and the Politics of Race, Gender and Memory in the Third Reich(University of Michigan Press, 2004) is a historical inquiry based on oral histories and archival documents that explores the experiences of Black Germans during the Third Reich. Image Matters: Archive, Photography and the African Diaspora in Europe (Duke University Press, 2012) theorizes the affects of family photography in early twentieth century Black German and Black British communities. Her most recent book, Listening to Images (Duke University Press, 2017) theorizes the everyday practices of refusal and fugitivity enacted in a frequently overlooked genre of black vernacular photographs she calls ‘quiet photography.’ Campt has edited special issues of Feminist Review, Callaloo and Small Axe, and together with Paul Gilroy, co-edited Der Black Atlantik (Haus der Kulturen der Welt, 2004), the first German language collection of key texts on the Black Atlantic. Professor Campt is the recipient of research grants and fellowships from the Leverhulme Trust, the American Association of University Women, The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), the Social Science Research Council, and the Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities.
Aimee Meredith Cox is jointly appointed as an Associate Professor in the departments of African American Studies and Anthropology at Yale University. Her research and teaching interests lie at the intersection of Anthropology, Black Studies, and Performance Studies. Cox’s first monograph, Shapeshifters: Black Girls and the Choreography of Citizenship (Duke 2015), won a 2016 Victor Turner Book Prize in Ethnographic Writing, and Honorable Mention from the 2016 Gloria E. Anzaldúa Book Prize, given by the National Women’s Studies Association. She is the editor of the forthcoming volume, Gender: Space (MacMillan) and co-editor of a special issue of Public: A Journal of Imagining America on art and knowledge production in the academy. Cox is also a former professional dancer. She danced on scholarship with the Dance Theatre of Harlem and toured extensively with Ailey II. Her next ethnographic project, Living Past Slow Death, explores the creative protest strategies individuals and communities enact to reclaim Black life in the urban United States.
Macarena Gomez-Barris is a cultural critic, author and Chairperson of Social Science and Cultural Studies. She is founder and Director of the Global South Center, a hub for critical inquiry, aesthetic praxis, and experimental forms of social living. Macarena works on cultural memory, race, queer and decolonial theory, and rethinking the anthropocene. She is author of the recently published The Extractive Zone: Social Ecologies and Decolonial Perspectives, a book that theorizes social life through five extractive scenes of ruinous capitalism upon Indigenous territories (Duke University Press, 2017). She is also author of Beyond the Pink Tide: Art and Politics in the AmÃ©ricas (UC Press, 2018), Where Memory Dwells: Culture and State Violence in Chile (UC Press, 2009), and co-editor with Herman Gray of Towards a Sociology of a Trace (University of Minnesota Press, 2010). Macarena is author of numerous essays in art catalogues, including work on Laura Aguilar, Julie Mehretu, Cecilia Vicuna, and Carolina Caycedo, as well as essays in numerous peer reviewed journals. Macarena was a Fulbright fellow in 2014-2015 at Sociology and Gender Department in FLACSO Ecuador, Quito. She is co-editor with Diana Taylor of Dissenting Acts, a Duke University Press series.
Saidiya Hartman was born and raised in New York City. She is a Professor in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. She is the author of Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth Century America (Oxford, 1997) and Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2007). She has published articles on slavery, the archive, and the city, including “The Terrible Beauty of the Slum, ”“Venus in Two Acts” and “The Belly of the World.” She has been a Cullman Fellow at the New York Public Library, a Fulbright Scholar in Ghana, a Whitney Oates Fellow at Princeton University, and a Rockefeller Fellow at Brown University.
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