Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments is a brilliant and moving book by Saidiya Hartman that examines a rich social history of marginalized black women in the early twentieth century. Hartman does an incredible job of capturing these unknown “wayward” women—women who in many respects crafted and shaped a different life for themselves amid extraordinarily dire circumstances. Hartman’s cast of characters includes queer women, cabaret performers, sex workers, and others, living in the streets of Philadelphia as well as the Tenderloin and Harlem neighborhoods of New York. The author creatively and ingeniously infuses literary license where there was thin history on her subject. Exhaustively researched, Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments is a powerful, compelling, and groundbreaking work.

Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Social Upheaval, by Saidiya Hartman. Published by W. W. Norton. The editor is John Glusman and the agent is Joseph Spieler. Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments is a finalist for the Publishing Triangle’s Judy Grahn Award for Lesbian Nonfiction; the winner will be announced on April 30.