Submitting Campus

Daytona Beach


Humanities & Communication

Document Type


Publication/Presentation Date

Fall 2014


This essay reads the rural Midwest as a modern space in which the sounds and material apparatus of early-twentieth-century jazz music compose the cultural field of Langston Hughes’s 1930 novel Not Without Laughter. It argues that Not Without Laughter does not attempt to supplant the more conventional urban modernities of Harlem and Chicago. Rather, the novel constructs a rural alternative that forms ambivalence through accumulation, both filling and exceeding the novel’s spaces and the experiences of its characters. Approaching Hughes’s novel through the sonic ambivalences of modern rurality evidences how some authors transgressed the supposed boundaries of the Harlem Renaissance by locating their texts outside conventional narratives. It also demonstrates how modernist turns to the rural space do not stop at exploring folk narratives and forms but can be seen to propose rural and regional modernities that accumulate materials, stories, and sounds.

Publication Title

College Literature


Johns Hopkins University Press

Required Publisher’s Statement

Copyright © 2014 Andy Oler. This article first appeared in College Literature 41: 4 (2014), 94-110. Reprinted with permission by Johns Hopkins University Press.