Serpent's Tail wins Columbia academic's 'lavish' black history in five-way auction

Serpent's Tail wins Columbia academic's 'lavish' black history in five-way auction

Serpent’s Tail triumphed in a five-publisher auction, winning Columbia professor Saidiya Hartman’s "radical and lavish" history of young black women, Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments.

According to Serpent’s Tail, Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments makes the case that America’s young black women of the late 19th and early 20th century were “a great lost cultural avant-garde, the pioneers who transformed our ideas about love, sex, community, culture and social justice”.

“Her subjects are lost women: the first generations born free after abolition who were servants and skivvies, sex-workers, club singers and dancers, queer adventurers, despised and neglected in life and forgotten thereafter,” the indie press said.

Serpent’s Tail publisher Ed Lake bought UK rights - including audio, e-book and serial - following a five-way auction, from Caspian Dennis at Abner Stein who was acting for Joe Spieler at the Spieler Agency in New York. Serpent’s Tail will publish in August 2019 while Norton will publish in the US next month.

Hartman is a professor at Columbia University and lives in New York. She is also a Guggenheim Fellow and has been a Cullman Fellow and Fulbright Scholar and author of Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth-Century America, published by Oxford University Press in 1996.

Lake said of her latest book: “I’ve never seen anything quite like it. It takes huge creative risks and they all pay off. The book’s methods are radical. Its style is lavish. And its argument addresses a great and hidden injustice, one that has somehow been passed over in all our reckonings with race and gender and cultural appropriation."

He added: "These women can only barely be glimpsed in the official record, and yet, under conditions of terrifying necessity, they were the inventors of so much that is good about our time. Straining at the limits of historiography, Hartman is finally giving them their due.”

Hartman said: "At the turn of the 20th century, young black women were in open rebellion. Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments recreates the radical imagination and wayward practices of these young women by describing the world through their eyes.

“I am very excited about the UK edition of this work and honored to be in the company of writers at Serpent's Tail,” she added. “I believe the lives of these wayward women and riotous girls will strike a deep chord with readers across the Atlantic.”