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Not Without Laughter

4.13  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,255 Ratings  ·  106 Reviews
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 mot
Paperback, 304 pages
Published March 1st 1995 by Touchstone (first published 1930)
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Ross From ch. 25, "Pool Hall" - "No matter how belligerent or lewd their talk was, or how sordid the tales they told - of dangerous pleasures and strange…moreFrom ch. 25, "Pool Hall" - "No matter how belligerent or lewd their talk was, or how sordid the tales they told - of dangerous pleasures and strange perversities - these black men laughed. That must be the reason, thought Sandy, why poverty-stricken old Negroes like Uncle Dan Givens lived so long - because to them, no matter how hard life might be, it was not without laughter."(less)
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale HurstonNative Son by Richard WrightThe Collected Poems by Langston HughesThe Ways of White Folks by Langston HughesPassing by Nella Larsen
The Harlem Renaissance
7th out of 113 books — 35 voters
The Color Purple by Alice WalkerTheir Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale HurstonThe Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm XBeloved by Toni MorrisonInvisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Best African American Books
107th out of 604 books — 768 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Ben Siems
Dec 26, 2007 Ben Siems rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Those who love autobiographical fiction
Langston Hughes is one of my all-time favorite writers, mostly for his poetry, but I love his autobiographies (The Big Sea and I Wonder as I Wander) and this autobiographical novel.

There is so much heartbreak in the story, but the two recurring themes -- that there ain't no room in this world for nothing but love, and that whatever else life is, it is not without laughter -- are so incredibly uplifting. A great story of keeping one's chin up when there seems no reason to do so.

As an aside, this
"This party's for the white kids."
Willie-Mae did not understand. She stood holding out the coupons, waiting for the tall white man to take them.
"Stand back, you two," he said, looking at Sandy as well. "I told you little darkies this wasn't your party.... Come on -- next little girl."
It's been a few weeks since I finished Hughes' semi-autobiographical novella, but that scene has stayed with me. More than any other event in the novel, this scene typifies the "coming of age" experience of many m
Sep 23, 2013 Carrie rated it really liked it
Doesn't much hold together as an actual novel - some passages feel patched together, while major events are brushed over in a few sentences. Sandy is somewhat of a weak protagonist; much of his growth is explained in paragraphs of prose, rather than through his own actions or agency, and he's rarely more than a passive observer for much of the first two-thirds of the story, when he begins to ask more questions. Nevertheless, there's something aching and lovely about the book, and the characters ...more
Jun 10, 2015 Ang rated it liked it
This is the first time I have read anything by Langston Hughes. His words are very visceral, I was able to feel, smell, hear and sense everything that was being described on the pages. There was some cathartic release in how the book ended. While it's a short book with 218 pages, you are able to grow up with the main character, Sandy. You meet him when he's a little boy and the book ends when he's about 15-16 years of age. Its basically his life as a boy living with his grandmother, mother, fath ...more
Finally getting around to reading a Hughes novel. Okay, I'll admit it, I'm reading it from this collection which I picked up so I could read George S Schuyler's Black No More because I'm a sci fi nerd, but as I'm also a completist and an opportunist I'm reading everything else in the collection, and this is why I can't get anything done. It's not science fiction and it's a coming of age novel, which makes it something I'd ordinarily...not avoid, exactly, but just be really slow to get around to. ...more
Aug 11, 2014 Dawn rated it really liked it
This is the first by Langston Hughes that I’ve read. I haven’t read any of his poetry but this book is full of poetic prose. The story is about a young black boy, Sandy, that grows up through the pages. Sandy is raised by his grandmother Aunt Hager until she passes away. His education in life is then taken over by his Aunt and finally his mother.

If you’ve read Gone with the Wind you will understand the vernacular of how these poor black folk speak. At first it may be hard to understand but after
Jul 11, 2007 Patricia rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
It's just so beautifully written. Hughes is my favorite poet for many reasons - one of them being the way he infuses jazz into his poetry (for example, check "Juke Box Love Song"). This aspect of his poetry shows up strong in this novel. And the story is so compelling and the protagonist is so endearing. I just didn't want the story to end. Go read this book! Now!
Jan 30, 2014 Josh rated it really liked it
Shelves: novels, classics
What seems at first like a simple, pleasant novel reveals itself to be really fairly complex: This is a story about the life of a black family (focusing on the young son) in Kansas, circa the 1910s. It reveals much about hardship and prejudice, but just as surely it reveals warmth and joy; moreover, it illustrates varying perspectives among black Americans-- some of whom aim to be as refined as white folks and end up succumbing to the same elitism; some of whom are angry or despairing; some of w ...more
Felecia Kelly
Jan 31, 2016 Felecia Kelly rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Not Without Laughter


5 stars

A coming of age story of black life in rural Kansas, seen through the eyes of Sandy, a black youth. The dialect was awesome and the story, touching. I highly recommend this book.
Jul 17, 2011 Susan rated it really liked it
My first Langston Hughes. I really loved it. Evocative. I felt like I was studying history in a fully sensual way.
Feb 12, 2014 Julie rated it it was amazing
If you're like me you know Hughes as a poet and an icon of the Harlem Renaissance the movement of this coming-of-age novel will be familiar. It jumps, soars, bops, rumbles and ultimately, it is filled with hope.

"Wah! Wah! Wah! ... The cornet laughed with terrible rudeness. Then the drums began to giggle and the banjo whined an insulting leer. The piano said, over and over again" "St. Louis! That big old dirty town where the Mississippi's deep and wide, deep and wide..."
"...while the cynical banj
Jun 15, 2008 Leslie rated it it was amazing
Heartbreaking and touching account of an African American growing up.
Michelle Boyer
A wonderful story that follows Sandy Rogers, a young boy growing up during the Harlem Renaissance. I'm particularly interested in the symbolism of the porch throughout the novel, and how it ties to the idealized American family, and the dysfunction that exists within the Rogers household.

This novel is a quick read (217 pages) but has a lot of depth and I highly encourage those interested in African American or Harlem Renaissance literature to give it a shot. Langston Hughes is an author that is
Apr 12, 2016 Laura rated it really liked it
Langston Hughes is, of course, best known for his poetry, but he wrote fiction as well. This is a novel about a black boy growing up in rural Kansas in the period between the world wars. I liked it a lot. The term "microagressions" didn't exist when the book was written, but this story of a child growing up in a frankly racist society pretty much defines it. But it's also a loving look at the richness of black culture, its music and its inner strength and the depth of relationships in the face o ...more
Jan 22, 2015 Karen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had never heard of this book. I had never heard of the author who is also a poet. It was the first book published by him in 1930.
I really loved this book. It tells the story of the childhood of Sandy Rogers, a coloured boy, growing up in a fictional town in Kansas in 1910s. It paints a picture of the daily life of the family. The writing is some times of such beauty that you slow down and savour it. It is also understated and for me, that was very powerful. Sometimes, it is a little like a con
"Being colored is like being born in the basement of life, with the door to the light locked and barred -- and the white folks live upstairs."

What a fantastic novel! It's a simple, quick read that's packed full of lyrical, emotive language and a heartbreaking look at the reality of a young black boy growing up in 1930s Kansas. The wide opportunity gaps created by race and poverty are palpable in every sentence of this novel, as are the character's hopes and dreams. They are working hard to surv
Marc Kohlman
Feb 21, 2015 Marc Kohlman rated it really liked it
An enduring and timeless Coming-of-Age story and Family Drama! I read this book in a College course on Langston Hughes work and internalized a lot with the character of Sandy. Being a precocious African-American child raised among strong women with an absent father, I felt as though I were reading stories from my own childhood and adolescent years through this fictional autobiographical story of Hughes own upbringing. The story addresses a lot of major issues ranging from chaos, absent parental ...more
Dec 01, 2011 Tony rated it it was ok

NOT WITHOUT LAUGHTER. (1931), Langston Hughes. **.
Hughes is best known as a black poet from the 1930s and 1940s, and was a key member of the writers from the Harlem Renaissance. He was born in Joplin, MO, in 1902, and died in 1967. This was his only novel, and is part of the collection issued by The Library of America in a two-volume set titled The Harlemn Renaissance. I’m afraid that Mr. Hughes was a better poet than he was a novelist, this effort being a coming of age novel of a young man rai
Aug 10, 2013 Brandon rated it it was ok
Shelves: american-fiction
I haven't read any other Hughes, and my opinion that follows is strictly amateur. Bearing that in mind: Hughes clearly has a talent for certain kinds of telling. The dancehall, the recollections of Hagar, the old man lying; the prose is not the same here: he can write music, he is faithful to different ways of spoken word, he respects styles other than the novel's narrator's. He assembles a chorus of contradicting black voices, with different needs, political agendas, and systemic lures to ensna ...more
Sam Dye
Mar 05, 2012 Sam Dye rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Best to review with quotes. Page 129 Sandy's grandmother Hagar's summary of living with abuse by whites:
An' since then I's met many a white lady an' many a white gentleman, an'some of 'em been kind to me an' some of 'em ain't; some of 'em's cussed me an' wouldn't pay me fo' ma work; an' some of 'em hurted me awful. But I's been sorry fo' white folks, fo' I knows something inside must be aggravatin' de po' souls. And I's kept a room in ma heart fo' 'em, 'cause white folks needs us, honey, even i
Peter Taylor
Jan 17, 2014 Peter Taylor rated it it was amazing
It's just like you might guess from the title: Life is hard, but "not without laughter."

Don't expect a linear plot. Don't expect a clear climax. Don't expect a hair-raising adventure or a blood-boiling tale of racism in the South. Don't expect something that will keep you up late into the night.

Do expect stunningly beautiful language. Do expect ambiguous characters. Do expect realism, no suspension of belief here. Do expect sadness and do expect laughter.

It's a story of people. Each member of th
Mar 25, 2009 Stephanie rated it it was amazing
It actually took my quite some time to finish this book. I partially attribute this to the fact that I was having a really hard time getting into that vernacular. It made the first chapters a real drag because you constantly had to guess around what the hell this meant. At some point my head was just swimming with all the "gwine" and "sho" and "chillens" and "de lawd" and what not. Thankfully, the language massively improves as the characters development and journey progresses, so it gets easier ...more
Christopher Sutch
Nov 20, 2014 Christopher Sutch rated it really liked it
Langston Hughes's first novel is a capable portrayal of a young African-American man's coming-of-age in 1910s Kansas. It is filled with a great amount of detail and family drama, which has some interest for a reader. However, it (mostly) lacks the poetry that Hughes is famous for; the language is workaday and pedestrian, and somehow the narrative lacks vividness and life. It would be interesting to see what a more mature Hughes would have achieved with this material.
Lila Vogt
Feb 19, 2013 Lila Vogt rated it it was amazing
I've long been a fan of Langston Hughes. He is a lyrical writer with a social conscience. I'm most familiar with his poetry, but his novels and short stories are wonderful, as well.

Not Without Laughter was his first novel and his use of dialogue depicts the real lives of poor black people living in rural Kansas during the 1930's. His story of Sandy Rogers coming of age while being most influenced by his strong-willed grandmother, reflects Hughes own upbringing, many times living with his grandmo
Feb 18, 2016 Kristen rated it really liked it
This book was pretty darn amazing. The story is not so much what happens to the characters as the world they live in. For a glimpse into life as a young black boy in the midwest in the early 1900s, there's not much else that's been written that can beat this. Getting to read Sandy's thoughts allows us a glimpse not just into his life, but his mind, that seldom besides Langston Hughes would have been able to provide. Really enjoyed this book.
May 28, 2009 Damien rated it it was ok
I read this book when I was living in Lawrence, Kansas. I haven't read his poetry, which I hear is great, but I don't know... seems I'm am easily disappointed.
While I thought the writing style was a little weak, I found most of the story to be interesting.
However, I was put off by one thing in particular- his treatment of the one (?) queer character in the book. Sure, even though I am queer, I am just as annoyed by sleazy predators just as much as any one else. But I didn't understand the inc
Jan 26, 2016 Sara rated it liked it
Enjoyed this short story of a young african american boy named Sandy raised by his grandmother in rural Kansas in the early 1930.

Sandy's grandmother loved him very much and pushed him to get a good education, so he would not have to to be stuck in the rural area of Kansas. He learned his love for jazz and blues from his frequently absentee father who was always gone chasing his dreams. He learned his diplomacy from living in a house full of women; his mother, grandmother and his mother's sister
Heather Brush
Mar 05, 2013 Heather Brush rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Langston Hughes' Book of Rhythms was pinnacle in a work of fiction I'd read and sparked my interest. While searching the internet for that title, I came across his only work of fiction, Not Without Laughter, and purchased it as well. Hughes' love of rhythm and music carries through this book. His descriptions of porch played singing and guitar strumming brought the evenings to life; a party, lively and raucous with young people, filled a chapter with sounds and dance steps. Throughout the novel, ...more
Feb 01, 2016 L.D. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to L.D. by: February book club read is Anything Langston Hughes.
Very insightful!! A book that would need reading several times. A small portion that caught my attention is found on page 129, starting with;
"I's been livin' a long time in yesterday, Sandy chile, an' I knows there ain't no room in de world fo' nothin' mo'n love. ... "

Read to the ending of the page!! ... "That's all they's room fo'---nothin' but love."

Dec 10, 2009 Bob rated it really liked it
Best known as a poet,of course, Langston Hughes also published 15 novels and collections of short stories. This is his first novel, from 1930, a bildungsroman of an African-American boy growing up in Kansas in the second decade of the 20th century. Many of the details of black life that are now Cultural Studies 101 (slide guitar blues played with the dull side of a pocket knife blade, "playing the dozens", the evolution of ragtime into jazz, and so on) may have been news to the literary fiction ...more
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optimism 3 10 Nov 07, 2013 08:46AM  
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Langston Hughes was an American poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, short story writer, and columnist. He was one of the earliest innovators of the then-new literary art form jazz poetry. Hughes is best known for his work during the Harlem Renaissance. He famously wrote about the period that "Harlem was in vogue."
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“I’s been livin’ a long time in yesterday, Sandy chile, an’ I knows there ain’t no room in de world fo’ nothin’ mo’n love. I know, chile! Ever’thing there is but lovin’ leaves a rust on yo’ soul. An’ to love sho ‘nough, you got to have a spot in yo’ heart fo’ ever’body – great an’ small, white an’ black, an’ them what’s good an’ them what’s evil – ‘cause love ain’t got no crowded-out places where de good ones stay an’ de bad ones can’t come in. When it gets that way, then it ain’t love.” 9 likes
“To those who lived on the other side of the railroad and never realized the utter stupidity of the word “sin,” the Bottoms was vile and wicked. But to the girls who lived there, and the boys who pimped and fought and sold licker there, “sin” was a silly word that did not enter their heads. They had never looked at life through the spectacles of the Sunday-School. The glasses good people wore wouldn’t have fitted their eyes, for they hung no curtain of words between themselves and reality. To them, things were—what they were.” 3 likes
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