Review | Not Without Laughter
Author: Langston Hughes
Publication Date: 1930
Genres: Classic Fiction
Although best known as a poet and pioneer of the Harlem Renaissance movement, Langston Hughes proves himself one of modern literature’s most revered and versatile African-American authors with Not Without Laughter, a powerful classic novel.
This is a moving portrait of African-American family life in 1930s Kansas, following young Sandy Rogers as he comes of age. Sandy’s mother, Annjee, works as a housekeeper for a rich white family, while his father traverses the country in search of work.
Not Without Laughter is a moving examination of growing up in a racially divided society. A rich and important work, Hughes deftly echoes the Black American experience with this novel.
I’m not a huge reader of poetry. I can’t remember every voluntarily reading poetry except that one time I read Maya Angelou. I could never quite “get” how to read poems. I’ve always felt poets write poems to to read in a certain rhythm or cadence. And without guidance, I feel like I get it wrong. That’s probably why I enjoy listening to poetry more than reading it.
Which is leading me to confess, I am not well versed in the poetry of Langston Hughes. If we play a game of “Guess the Poet” and you read a whole poem by Langston Hughes. The only chance of me getting the right answer is because he would be in the top 3 of poets I would name.
I’m quite ashamed.
That is why I was excited to see Langston Hughes also wrote prose and plays. Which somehow never came up in all on my English and History classes.
When I settled down to read Not Without Laughter, I didn’t have any expectations. Partially because the synopsis of the book was not exciting and also because I didn’t want to set my expectations too high to only be let down. But within the first couple of pages, I felt like it came home. The style, the writing was so… Harlem Renaissance. It’s so familiar and comforting, like I knew what I was getting into before I finished the first chapter.
The premise behind Not Without Laughter is a basic coming to age story. Set in the 1930s Kansas. It follows a young boy named Sandy, whose beings raised primarily by his grandmother. She’s determined to raise him so he will make his race proud. His mother spends most of the day being a housekeeper for a rich white family. While his father had a bad case of wanderlust and often leaves them for months, waiting for his return.
It’s hard to pinpoint anything special about Not Without Laughter and that’s the beauty of it, it all just works. The writing, the plot, the characters, the backstory all just mix. It was just a very smooth book to read. A book I could see myself returning to again and enjoying it as much as I did the first time.