Tony-Award winning actor shares childhood stories

Lemon Andersen will kick off the ASU Gammage "BEYOND" series with his one-man show, "County of Kings," this weekend. Photo courtesy of ASU Gammage.

Tony Award-winning poet, Lemon Andersen, made his name and his life story known through his words and poems. Andersen’s life in Brooklyn, N.Y., presented many challenges that eventually led to several accomplishments like a spot in “Def Jam Poetry on Broadway,” a drama desk nomination and a lifelong friendship with renowned director, Spike Lee.

Andersen performed his biographical piece, “County of Kings” to kick off the ASU Gammage “BEYOND” series Friday and Saturday, giving the audience an up close and personal look into his life.

Andersen spoke with The State Press about the journey and struggles with “County of Kings” and his future works.


The State Press: Why did you choose spoken word as your form of art as opposed to music or paintings? Does spoken word have a special meaning to you?

Lemon Anderson: After coming back from the Jay-Z concert at Barclay Center I realized it’s true what he said on stage, “You find what you’re a genius at, and roll with it.”

My job with spoken word is not work but to grow. Spoken word and poetry are just tools for what I use to convey a message in a show. Spoken word helps me entertain and tell a story.

SP: When did you realize spoken word was your passion?

LA: It saved my life. It’s hard to make a living off of it, but you have to know that part of this job is teaching and writing bigger and better work. People have to buy into it and be interested enough to buy a ticket. That’s the genius part of spoken word. (In Brooklyn) we don’t just do art, we hustle it.

SP: What audience are you most looking to appeal to?

LA: My job and the revolutionary act that I feel I make in theater is that I tell a story about a world that is never seen in theater. I speak for a generation that you don’t hear in the theater. Where I’m from, the lifestyle is not about theatre. I introduce them to the world I’m from whether it’s a contemporary or a period piece.

SP: What’s next for you?

LA: I’m developing a fiction play for Sundance (Institute Theater Program), called “Toasts” that we are in the middle of casting.

SP: You’ve worked with Spike Lee on several projects. What qualities bring you two together and make you good partners?

LA: We are both from Brooklyn, which is a place that is about keeping our integrity. We both believe that everyone should be a part of his or her community. First time I saw him I was on Broadway, and then we became friends. He loves that I don’t waste his time. I’ll work with Spike for the rest of my life; he’s the blueprint for my world.

SP: What were some of the biggest challenges when creating “County of Kings?”

LA: I had to break a new barrier in theater. I struggled for a long time because my voice and world in the ‘80s and ‘90s is not a voice they trusted to bring on stage. Could we convince an audience to come see it?

SP: Any advice or feedback for anyone looking to write a memoir and put their life on paper?

LA: You don’t have to come from a dark place to write a memoir. You have to be a stylist about it. Everyone has a story to tell and it’s the way you tell it that sells an audience. Style tells the story. Writers should have that style so that any little thing you capture is well written.


The “County of Kings” documentary titled “Lemon” will be airing Oct. 19 on PBS.


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