In Valerie Stivers’s Eat Your Words series, she cooks up recipes drawn from the works of various writers.
Langston Hughes’s 1931 classic Not Without Laughter, recently rereleased as a Penguin Classic, tells the coming-of-age story of Sandy, a light-skinned black youth in a small, mixed-race Kansas town in the 1910s. Sandy wants great things for himself but can’t see how to achieve them in a world rife with racism. Late in the novel, he muses that “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.” Out of context, this may seem simplistic, but it follows Hughes’s devastating explication of how the adult black role models in Sandy’s life have tried, and failed, to thrive. Sandy’s mother is a cook for a white family. She feeds her own family on scraps from her employer’s table, bringing home things like “a large piece of fresh lemon pie,” “two chocolate eclairs in her pocket, mashed together,” or “a small bucket of oyster soup.” Sandy’s grandmother, Aunt Hagar, cleans laundry for whites. She works herself to the bone for pennies with the belief that a quiet respectability will, in the end, save black people. Sandy’s father, Jimboy, and Sandy’s aunt embrace the blues and enjoy what they have, though Hughes does not sugarcoat the reality that what they have is too little. Read More