Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: In Conversation with Saidiya Hartman

Event Date: 31 May 2019
Room B01
Clore Management Centre
Birkbeck, University of London
Torrington Sq
London WC1E 7HX


The  Birkbeck Centre for Law and the Humanities presents:

Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Social Upheaval

Saidiya Hartman and Eddie Bruce-Jones in conversation, moderated by Avery F. Gordon

Saidiya Hartman’s eagerly awaited new book, Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Social Upheaval (Norton 2019), asks the question: “What is a free life?” An examination of the revolution in black intimate life that took place at the start of the twentieth century in Philadelphia and New York, Hartman narrates new forms of intimacy outside of norms of respectability and the bounds of law. Many young black women cleaved to and cast off lovers, exchanged sex to subsist, revised the meaning of marriage, and refused to work like slaves, creating experiments in how to live a life other than the one scripted for them. Through a melding of history and literary imagination, Wayward Lives beautifully recovers these young women’s radical aspirations and insurgent desires.

About the Speakers

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.

Eddie Bruce-Jones is Reader in Law & Anthropology and Deputy Dean at Birkbeck School of Law, where he teaches the postgraduate seminar “Race, Law and Literature” alongside courses on human rights, deaths in police custody and equality law. He is the author of Race in the Shadow of Law: State Violence in Contemporary Europe (Routledge 2017) and is currently writing his second book, Kaala Paani: Law, Imagination and Colonial Indenture. He serves on the editorial board of the Journal of Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Law and as essays editor of the literary magazine, The Offing.

Avery F. Gordon is Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara and Visiting Professor at Birkbeck School of Law University of London. Her most recent books are The Hawthorn Archive: Letters from the Utopian Margins (Fordham University Press 2018), The Workhouse: The Breitenau Room (with Ines Schaber) and Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination. Her work focuses on radical thought and practice, imprisonment, and other forms of dispossession. She serves on the Editorial Committee of the journal Race & Class and is the co-host of No Alibis, a weekly public affairs radio program on KCSB FM Santa Barbara.

Welcome by Professor Stewart Motha (Birkbeck)

Introduction by Professor Avery Gordon (Santa Barbara)
Reading from Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Social Upheaval:
Response by Dr Eddie Bruce-Jones (Birkbeck):
Professor Saidiya Hartman and Dr Eddie Bruce-Jones in conversation and audience questions:
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