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PRINT December 2019

books

Pamela M. Lee

How to model kinship when Jim Crow demands otherwise? What constitutes intimacy for the legatees of race slavery and social death? The “revolution in a minor key” of Saidiya Hartman’s Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Stories of Social Upheaval (W. W. Norton) is not led by the proper names of history—traditionally a mythomaniacal retread of a heroic actor across the world’s stage. Instead, Hartman elaborates a counternarrative centered on young black women and genderqueers living in New York and Philadelphia at the turn of the twentieth century and forging their errant paths. For her many protagonists, “minor” figures all—Mattie Jackson, Mamie Sharp, Gladys Bentley, Jackie Mabley, Mabel Hampton, Marvel Cooke, and so many others—love is indivisible from survival. Their ways of being create new social arrangements; sexualities and genders play out in cabarets, rented

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