Considered by many to be a founder of Afrofuturism, Sun Ra—aka Herman Blount—was a composer, keyboardist, bandleader, philosopher, entrepreneur, poet, and self-proclaimed extraterrestrial from Saturn. He recorded over 200 albums with his Arkestra, which, dressed in Egypto-space costumes, played everything from boogie-woogie and swing to fusion and free jazz. John Szwed's Space is the Place is the definitive biography of this musical polymath, who was one of the twentieth century's greatest avant-garde artists and intellectuals. Charting the whole of Sun Ra's life and career, Szwed outlines how after years in Chicago as a blues and swing band pianist, Sun Ra set out in the 1950s to impart his views about the galaxy, black people, and spiritual matters by performing music with the Arkestra that was as vital and innovative as it was mercurial and confounding. Szwed's readers—whether they are just discovering Sun Ra or are among the legion of poets, artists, intellectuals, and musicians who consider him a spiritual godfather—will find that, indeed, space is the place.


"Szwed has produced a rare jazz biography—one that takes full account of the history that shaped the music and its central personalities.” — Brent Staples, New York Times


“[Szwed] succeeds in prying open countless enigmas within enigmas, revealing much that has eluded historians until now.” — Stuart Nicholson, Observer


“The story of the experimental jazz composer, keyboardist and band leader Sun Ra . . . is told with brilliance and grace by the Yale anthropologist John Szwed in this deeply simpatico new biography. . . . The achievement of this biography is that it carefully articulates such views of life and art at the same time that it provides hard data and analysis to locate Sun Ra's theories in historical context.” — Robert G. O’Meally, Washington Post


“Against the odds, Szwed carves out a central image of Sun Ra as a man whose sincerity was unquestioned, whose heart was pure. Essential reading for the millennium.” — David Toop, Village Voice

Space Is the Place: The Lives and Times of Sun Ra

  • Duke University Press 2020

    New paperback

    512 pages