The Sun Ra literature is depressingly thin. Aside from Szwed’s excellent biography and Prof. Campbell’s exhaustive (but now out of date) discography, there’s not much else out there. Fortunately, a couple books came out recently to help to fill the void.
After a long delay, the third and final volume documenting the spectacular 2006 exhibition, “Pathways To Unknown Worlds” was published last year by Whitewalls. Curated by John Corbett, Anthony Elms and Terri Kapsalis, the first volume in the series, The Wisdom of Sun Ra: Sun Ra’s Polemical Broadsheets And Streetcorner Leaflets collects facsimiles (and transcriptions) of Ra’s earliest writings while the second volume, Pathways To Unknown Worlds: Sun Ra, El Saturn And Chicago’s Afro-Futurist Underground 1954-68 serves as a catalog for the exhibition with high-quality reproductions of album art and other business ephemera along with essays by Corbett, Glenn Ligon, Adam Abraham, and Camille Norment. Finally, Traveling The Spaceways: Sun Ra, The Astro Black and Other Space Myths compiles presentations from a two-day symposium held at the Hyde Park Art Center in Chicago in November 2006. I haven’t read the whole thing yet, but our own Prof. Campbell offers his research on Sonny’s earliest years in Chicago and there are essays by all the curators as well as notable critics, Kevin Whitehead and Graham Lock. Like others in the series, it is a slender but lovingly produced volume and, taken together, they make a wonderful reference source regarding Sun Ra’s Chicago years.
Additionally, good old John Sinclair has put together a book for Headpress simply titled, Sun Ra: Interviews & Essays and it looks pretty interesting. Collecting journalism from various sources, the book makes available writings that would otherwise be impossible to find—like an interview Sinclair conducted with Ra in 1966 for the Detroit Sun or a 1994 interview with trumpter, Michael Ray, published Offbeat. Again, I haven’t had a chance to read much of it yet, but I’m grateful to have it. Saturn Research continues!
I know: I punted again. Tune in next week for more record reviews—I promise!