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A man in african garb standing in front of the Parthenon

Professor Sun Ra's Afro-Futuristic Reading Program


The jazz master once taught a course at Berkeley. It included a rather eccentric reading list…

Herman Blount was a young musician from Alabama. He traveled from town to town with a big band, and unlike the myth of southern blues musicians, by which a pact with the Devil himself turns them into overnight virtuosos, Blount’s experience was even more extreme.

Biographer, John Szwed says Blount had an extra-corporeal experience, during which “my whole body changed into something else. I landed on a planet that I identified as Saturn” and “inhabited by beings with a little antenna on each ear. A little antenna on each eye.” They ordered him to leave the university and devote himself completely to music. From that time on, Herman Blount changed his name to Sun Ra, and as they say, the rest is history.

Sun Ra was also the creator of “Afrofuturism,” a free jazz form based in multiple philosophies and musical traditions, and creating wild, unpredictable tunes. But that’s still not the be-all end-all of Sun Ra’s academic history.

In 1971, Sun Ra offered a course at the University of California at Berkley, as the chair of the African-American Studies department. In the course, Sun Ra theorized on the role of African-Americans within the universe, their connections with occult esotericism, Egyptology, avant-garde poetry, and with various pantheons of gods, especially those of the Egyptians, from which he took his name. (Ra was the Egyptian god of heaven, light and sun.)

The course reading list, if you’d like to follow some of Sun Ra’s teachings, offers a sui generis list of books for nourishing the imagination along with a high dose of eccentricity.

The Egyptian Book of the Dead


Alexander Hislop: Two Babylons

The Theosophical works of Madame Blavatsky

The Book of Oahspe

Henry Dumas: Ark of Bones

Henry Dumas: Poetry for My People eds. Hale Charfield & Eugene Redmond, Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press 1971

Black Fire: An Anthology of Afro-American Writing, eds. Leroi Jones & Larry Neal, New York: William Morrow 1968

David Livingston: Missionary Travels

Theodore P. Ford: God Wills the Black

Rutledge: God’s Children

Stylus, vol. 13, no. 1 (Spring 1971), Temple University

John S. Wilson: Jazz. Where It Came From, Where It’s At, United States Information Agency

Yosef A. A. Ben-Jochannan: Black Man of the Nile and His Family, Alkibu Ian Books 1972
Constantin Francois de Chasseboeuf, Count of Volney: The Ruins, or, Meditation on the Revolutions of Empires, and the Law of Nature, London: Pioneer Press 1921

The Source Book of Man’s Life and Death (The King James Bible)

Pjotr ​​Demianovitch Ouspensky: A New Model of the Universe. Principles of the Psychological Method in Its Application to Problems of Science, Religion and Art, New York: Knopf 1956

Frederick Bodmer: The Loom of Language. An Approach to the Mastery of Many Languages, ed. Lancelot  Hogben, New York: Norton & Co. 1944

Blackie’s Etymology




Image: LK – flickr

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