The Ph.D. Program in History

at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York

GC Events

March 7 – Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Saidiya Hartman in Conversation with Hazel Carby and Farah Griffin

6:30pm, William P. Kelly Skylight Room (9100)


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.

For this event, Saidiya Hartman will be joined by Hazel Carby and Farah Griffin.

The talk is free and open to the public. All are welcome.


Saidiya Hartman is the author of Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments (Norton, 2019); Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2007); and Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth Century America (Oxford, 1997).
She is currently at work on a new book project, N Folio: An Essay on Slavery and the Archive. She has published articles on slavery, history and the archive, and black women’s lives, including “The Terrible Beauty of the Slum, ” “Venus in Two Acts,” and “The Belly of the World.” She is a Guggenheim Fellow for 2018-2019. 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 Critical Inquiry Visiting Professor at the University of Chicago. She received her B.A. from Wesleyan University and her Ph.D. from Yale. She has taught at the University of California at Berkeley and is Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. She is the former director of the Institute for Research on Gender and Sexuality.

Hazel V. Carby is Charles C. and Dorathea S. Dilley Professor of African American Studies, Professor of American Studies at Yale University and Director of the Initiative on Race Gender and Globalization (IRGG) []. She was the 2016 recipient of the Jay B. Hubbell Medal for lifetime achievement in American Literature, awarded by the Modern Language Association, and the 2019 Stuart Hall Outstanding Mentor Award from the Caribbean Philosophical Association. She was recently made a Fellow of the Royal Society for the Arts. Carby teaches courses on the literature and art of the black Atlantic and the Caribbean, on the transnational imaginaries of contemporary fiction, and on science fiction in literature, visual culture and music. She is currently co-teaching, with Inderpal Grewal, the Franke seminar, Race & Caste. Imperial Intimacies, forthcoming Verso, September 2019, is an auto-history of the intimate imperial entanglements of the islands of Britain and Jamaica from the anti-Napoleonic war to the anti-fascist war. Previous books include Cultures in Babylon (Verso, 1999); Race Men (Harvard, 1998); and Reconstructing Womanhood (Oxford, 1987).

Farah Jasmine Griffin is the inaugural chair of the African American and African Diaspora Studies Department and the William B. Ransford Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, where she is also Affiliate Faculty of the Center for Jazz Studies. Griffin is the author of Harlem Nocturne: Women Artists and Progressive Politics During World War II (Basic Books, 2013); If You Can’t Be Free, Be a Mystery: In Search of Billie Holiday (Free Press, 2001); Beloved Sisters and Loving Friends: Letters from Rebecca Primus of Royal Oak, Maryland, and Addie Brown of Hartford Connecticut, 1854-1868 (Alfred A. Knopf, 1999); and Who Set You Flowin’: The African American Migration Narrative (Oxford, 1995). She is the co-author, with Salim Washington, of Clawing At the Limits of Cool: Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and the Greatest Jazz Collaboration Ever (Thomas Dunne, 2008). Griffin has collaborated with composer, pianist, the late Geri Allen and director, actor S. Epatha Merkerson on two theatrical projects, for which she wrote the book. The first, “Geri Allen and Friends Celebrate the Great Jazz Women of the Apollo,” with Lizz Wright, Dianne Reeves, Teri Lyne Carrington and others, premiered on the main stage of the Apollo Theater in May of 2013. The second, “A Conversation with Mary Lou” featuring vocalist Carmen Lundy, premiered at Harlem Stage in March 2014 and was performed at The John F. Kennedy Center in May 2016. Griffin’s essays and articles have appeared in Essence, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Nation, The Guardian, Harper’s Bazaar, Art Forum and numerous other publications. She is also a frequent radio commentator on political and cultural issues.

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