In the 1930s, a young man from Birmingham named Herman Poole Blount underwent a conversion experience and emerged Sun Ra, a member of the Angel Race. Sun Ra claimed he was a superior being from outer space who was sent to Earth to save its people through music. For four decades, he led his band, the Arkestra, through multiple iterations and diverse styles.
This year we celebrate the late Sun Ra’s 100th anniversary.
Sun Ra is considered one of the most influential and innovative musicians and artists of the 20th century for his contributions to jazz and his pioneering use of electronic instruments. He is remembered for the alien identity to which the musician remained faithful for his whole adult life.
For Sun Ra, that otherworldly identity was rooted in very real, earthly issues, including the deeply alienating experience of growing up in the Jim Crow South.
“He began to think of the Earth as a place where evil had been turned loose at some point, and everything got worse and worse,” John Szwed, Sun Ra’s biographer, said.
His philosophy and response to a brutal world were inspired by the vast body of literature he read, including science fiction and Egyptology.
Ytasha Womack says a science fiction narrative appealed to Sun Ra because the genre provides the possibility for radical transformation: “People create entirely different worlds that provide a lens to reimagine ourselves.”
Craig Harris, who played in the Arkestra, said the musical innovations Sun Ra pioneered were all in service of his philosophy.
“We’re looking at the same box, but we’re looking at it from different angles,” Harris said of Sun Ra’s musical process. “You’re looking at it from 354 degrees and I’m looking at it from 360 degrees. And that was the whole concept with [Sun Ra]… You can choose your own reality. There’s no limits.”
Featuring the voices of Ytasha Womack, filmmaker and author of Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci Fi and Fantasy Culture and Rayla 2212;” Hank Shocklee, music producer and co-founder of the hip-hop group Public Enemy; Craig Harris, trombonist and composer who performed with Sun Ra from 1976 to 1979; John Szwed, professor of music at Columbia University and author of Space is the Place: The Lives and Times of Sun Ra.
This audio piece features unheard archival audio courtesy of writer Mark Sinker, who interviewed Sun Ra for his essay in The Wire, “Loving the Alien.”
More Brilliant Than The Sun explores the fictional spaces between the margins. Where, historically, the African diaspora has been neglected and forgotten in an effort to explore and reclaim the spaces where other studies avoid. This book refuses to dwell solely on Black cultural figures…
Grace Jones embodies a “post-human” identity and space in which she pushes beyond the “human” and transforms herself into a post-human or transhuman identity. This can also be exemplified in her affectless object-machine aesthetic or the idea that she is robotic…
From Ella Baker to Abbey Lincoln, Lena Horne to Dorothy Height, let’s get to know women central to the civil rights movement. Some preferred staying behind-the-scenes, others performed their civil rights on stage and screen. Then we bring the conversation up to the present by talking about what’s changed since then (and what hasn’t) for performers like Beyoncé. Thanks for listening and sharing!
1. Soy Sauce For Beginners by Kristin Chen (Jan 7th, 2014):Gretchen Lin, adrift at the age of thirty, leaves behind a floundering marriage in San Francisco to return to her Singapore home, where she confronts the challenges of her mother’s alcoholism and her father’s artisanal soy sauce business before being pulled into a family controversy. In the midst of increasing pressure from her father to remain permanently in Singapore—and pressure from her mother to do just the opposite—Gretchen must decide whether she will return to her marriage and her graduate studies at the San Francisco Conservatory, or sacrifice everything and join her family’s crusade to spread artisanal soy sauce to the world.
2. On Such a Full Seaby Chang-rae Lee (Jan 7th, 2014): In a dystopian American future where declining urban neighborhoods have been transformed into highwalled, self-contained labor colonies whose Chinese immigrant residents work catching fish for the surrounding elites. In this world lives Fan, a female fish-tank diver, who leaves her home in the B-Mor settlement (once known as Baltimore), when the man she loves mysteriously disappears. Fan’s journey to find him takes her out of the safety of B-Mor, through the anarchic Open Counties, where crime is rampant with scant governmental oversight, and to a faraway charter village, in a quest that will soon become legend to those she left behind.
3. The Radiance of Tomorrowby Ishmael Beah (Jan 7th, 2014): Beah’s debut novel tells the story of two friends Benjamin and Bockarie, who return to their hometown, Imperi, after the civil war. The village is in ruins, the ground covered in bones. As more villagers begin to come back, Benjamin and Bockarie try to forge a new community by taking up their former posts as teachers, but they’re beset by obstacles: a scarcity of food; a rash of murders, thievery, rape, and retaliation; and the depredations of a foreign mining company intent on sullying the town’s water supply and blocking its paths with electric wires. As Benjamin and Bockarie search for a way to restore order, they’re forced to reckon with the uncertainty of their past and future alike.
4. The Secret History of Las Vegas by Chris Abani (Jan 7th, 2014): Salazar, a detective, is determined to solve a string of recent murders before he retires. He enlists the help of an expert in psychopathy, Dr. Sunil Singh, who is haunted by a betrayal of his loved ones in apartheid South Africa. But Sunil’s own troubled past is fast on his heels in the form of a would-be assassin.
5. Ripper: A Novel by Isabel Allende (Jan 28th, 2014): An atmospheric, fast-paced mystery involving a brilliant teenage sleuth who must unmask a serial killer in San Francisco.The Jackson women, Indiana and Amanda, have always had each other. Yet, while their bond is strong, mother and daughter are as different as night and day. Indiana, a beautiful holistic healer, is a free-spirited bohemian. Long divorced from Amanda’s father, she’s reluctant to settle down with either of the men who want her—Alan, the wealthy scion of one of San Francisco’s elite families, and Ryan, an enigmatic, scarred former Navy SEAL.
6. An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine (Feb 4th, 2014): The narrator of Rabih Alameddine’s fourth novel is reclusive seventy-two-year-old Aaliya Sobi, who lives alone in an apartment in Beirut who spends her time translating books into Arabic and then stowing them away, never to be read. The book is an exploration of Aaliya’s inner life -of her memories of Lebanon’s troubled recent history and her own turbulent past, and of her thoughts on literature and art. As she tries to overcome her aging body and spontaneous emotional upwellings, Aaliya is faced with an unthinkable disaster that threatens to shatter the little life she has left.
7. Influx by Daniel Suarez (Feb 20th, 2014) - New York Times bestselling author of DAEMON, returns with a new high-concept techno-thriller. Suarez imagines a world where hugely significant technological innovations have been suppressed by a secret government agency for decades—and are about to be unleashed in a massive upheaval that could destroy the Earth.
8. Kinder Than Solitudeby Yiyun Li (Feb 25th, 2014): When Moran, Ruyu, and Boyang were young, they were involved in a mysterious “accident” in which a friend of theirs was poisoned. Grown up, the three friends are separated by distance and personal estrangement. Moran and Ruyu live in the United States, Boyang in China; all three are haunted by what really happened in their youth, and by doubt about themselves. In California, Ruyu helps a local woman care for her family and home, and avoids entanglements, as she has done all her life. In Wisconsin, Moran visits her ex-husband, whose kindness once overcame her flight into solitude. In Beijing, Boyang struggles to deal with an inability to love, and with the outcome of what happened among the three friends twenty years ago.
9. The Fall of Saints by Wa Ngugi Wanjiku (Feb 25th, 2014): In this stunning debut novel, a Kenyan expat living the American dream with her husband and adopted son soon finds it marred by child trafficking, scandal, and a problematic past.Mugure and Zack seem to have the picture-perfect family: a young, healthy son, a beautiful home in Riverdale, New York, and a bright future. But one night, as Mugure is rummaging through an old drawer, she comes across a piece of paper with a note scrawled on it—a note that calls into question everything she’s ever believed about her husband.
10. Girl Missing (re-release) by Tess Gerritsen (Feb 25th, 2014): A beautiful young woman’s corpse is found dumped in a garbage-strewn alley. Now laid out in the office of medical examiner Kat Novak is an unidentified body that betrays no secrets—except for a matchbook clutched in one stiff hand, seven numbers scrawled inside. When a second victim is discovered, Kat begins to fear that a serial killer is stalking the streets, using a deadly drug to do his dirty work. The police are skeptical. The mayor won’t listen. One of the town’s most prominent citizens, with a missing daughter of his own, is also Kat’s chief suspect. As the death toll rises, Kat races to expose a deadly predator who is close enough to touch her.
11. All Our Names by Dinaw Mengestu (March 4th, 2014): the story of two young men who come of age during an African revolution, drawn from the safe confines of the university campus into the intensifying clamor of the streets outside. But as the line between idealism and violence becomes increasingly blurred, the friends are driven apart—one into the deepest peril, as the movement gathers inexorable force, and the other into the safety of exile in the American Midwest. There, pretending to be an exchange student, he falls in love with a social worker and settles into small-town life. Yet this idyll is inescapably darkened by the secrets of his past: the acts he committed and the work he left unfinished. Most of all, he is haunted by the beloved friend he left behind, the charismatic leader who first guided him to revolution and then sacrificed everything to ensure his freedom.
12. Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi (March 6th, 2014): From the prizewinning author of Mr. Fox, the Snow White fairy tale brilliantly recast as a story of family secrets, race, beauty, and vanity. In the winter of 1953, Boy Novak arrives by chance in a small town in Massachusetts, looking, she believes, for beauty—the opposite of the life she’s left behind in New York. She marries a local widower and becomes stepmother to his winsome daughter, Snow Whitman. A wicked stepmother is a creature Boy never imagined she’d become, but elements of the familiar tale of aesthetic obsession begin to play themselves out when the birth of Boy’s daughter, Bird, who is dark-skinned, exposes the Whitmans as light-skinned African Americans passing for white. Among them, Boy, Snow, and Bird confront the tyranny of the mirror to ask how much power surfaces really hold.
Anonymous members of Pussy Riot circulated an open letter this morning, shortly after recently imprisoned Pussy Riot members Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova performed at an Amnesty International benefit concert at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. Referring to their two former colleagues, the authors write, “We are no longer Nadia and Masha. They are no longer Pussy Riot.” Their letter is presented in full, unedited, on Creative Time Reports.
“You want to know for whom, look at your work. Who does it celebrate, who does it put down, who does it think is beautiful, who does it think is ugly, what work are you doing, what study? We can see it in there. We don’t have to ask you nothing, you give me your poetry or literature, I read it and I know a lot about you just from reading that.”—Amiri Baraka (via ranef007)