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Not Without Laughter

4.13 of 5 stars 4.13  ·  rating details  ·  1,045 ratings  ·  90 reviews
Langston Hughes was one of the best-known poets in modern America and his first novel, "Not Without Laughter, " is undoubtedly his finest prose. A classic of African-American literature, it is the poignant story of a young black boy's awakening to the sad and the beautiful realities of black life in a small Kansas town. Published in 1930, "Not Without Laughter" is a pionee ...more
Hardcover, 299 pages
Published March 1st 1995 by Turtleback Books (first published 1930)
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(showing 1-30 of 2,378)
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Ben Siems
Dec 26, 2007 Ben Siems rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Ang
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
Juliette
"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
...more
Zeo
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
Carrie
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
Dawn
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
...more
Patricia
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!
Josh
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
Susan
My first Langston Hughes. I really loved it. Evocative. I felt like I was studying history in a fully sensual way.
Julie
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
...more
Leslie
Heartbreaking and touching account of an African American growing up.
Karen
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
...more
Marc Kohlman
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
Tony

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
...more
Brandon
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
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
...more
Peter Taylor
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
...more
Stephanie
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
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
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
...more
Damien
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
...more
Heather Brush
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
Bob
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
Barbikat60
What an amazing and empowering book! My mother had me read his poems when I was a child. My mom always raised her children to respect ourselves as intelligent black people. This book brings me closer to home despite the different lifestyles between my life and that of the main protagonist.
Karen
Langston's Hughes only novel starts out slowly but grows on you until you realize how incredible it is. The story is simple enough: we follow Sandy from a ten-year-old boy through his mid-teens in the small town of Stanton, Kansas in 1912. While relations with whites are somewhat cordial and he doesn't experience the brutal racism of the south, blacks lack opportunity and are looked down upon. Sandy lives with his grandmother, a washerwoman; his mother, a maid; his teenage aunt; and sometimes hi ...more
Mary
I bought this amazing book from Dover having never heard of the author but needing another item to qualify for their "free shipping" deal. What a lucky choice! I read the first chapter and commented to my husband how the writer pulls you right in to the scene and he said, "oh yeah, Langston Hughes is a good author and poet." Of course, my husband is big on poetry, being a poet himself. But this is one of the finest books I've read depicting a boy growing up in a poor black family being basically ...more
Justine Johnson
Not *quite* as awesome as Hughes' poetry, but a great read. I didn't even know about this book until a few months ago, which says more about the white-washed American canon than my own ignorance. I read this with the same group of teens whom I read The Great Gatsby with, and they unanimously thought this was a better book. I 90% agree with them. Like Fitzgerald, Hughes knows how to make words and phrases sparkle. There are whole sections I re-read just for the music of the prose. And, frankly, I ...more
Brit
I have always loved Langston Hughes, I think he is an amazing writer, his poetry is so beautifully written and the emotions are so real and feels like you are with the character. I was so excited when I came across this book because such a beautiful poet should be able to write an amazing book. Not Without Laughter is about a young boy who is growing up in a small town in Kansas. It is about the realities of being black in a time of strong racism . It teaches us about always staying positive bec ...more
Rachel
I read this book for Black History Month. I knew that Hughes was a better poet, so I didn't have high expectations. More I was looking for a point of view on how African Americans saw themselves and what they experienced through history. And I got just that! Through the character's different perspectives I was able to see various viewpoints about the treatment of this race through the generations. Even a glimpse into what the author thought it took to be a great man capable of making historic so ...more
Zac Sigler
I think the real nugget in this novel is how well the three sisters' charactes are developed, even though they are not developed simultaneously, and that as opposite and oppositional as Tempy and Harriet could be, they both end up wanting the same thing for Sandy. I also find it interesting that while the novel's raison d'etre is to rail against the prejudice against African-Americans during the 1930's and 40's, one particular event demonstrates prejudice against gays. It goes to show how uplift ...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."
More about Langston Hughes...
The Collected Poems Selected Poems The Ways of White Folks The Best of Simple The Big Sea

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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.” 7 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.” 1 likes
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