Lemon Andersen is a Tony Award winning playwright, poet and spoken word artist. Frequently featured on HBO's Def Poetry over the course of six seasons, he also starred in the original cast of Russell Simmons' Def PoetryJam on Broadway, which earned him a Tony Award and Drama Desk nomination. As a spoken word artist, he's performed to sold-out crowds at Nuyorican Poets Cafe, the Apollo Theater, Chicago Theater, and Hollywood’s Kodak Theater; and his one-man show County of Kings: The Beautiful Struggle had a critically acclaimed off-Broadway run at the Public Theater. On the big screen Lemon appeared in The Soloist with Robert Downey, Jr. and Jamie Foxx, and he's made four movies with Spike Lee, including Sucker Free City, She Hate Me, Miracle at St. Anna and Inside Man. His 2011 TED Talk: Please don't take my Air Jordans won him widespread attention and praise. As a playwright, Lemon's new play ToasT is a tribute to the black oral narrative tradition of 'toasting', and takes place at Attica prison right before the 1971 uprising. The play has been commissioned by the Sundance Institute and will open at the Public Theater for a limited run on April 21st. For tickets, visit publictheater.com
In this conversation, Lemon talks about growing up in poverty, and how PBS and a ballet program opened up a world of possibilities to him as a kid; why prison was the beginning of his training as a poet, the real life characters who inspired his new play ToasT and the importance of having creative control over one's work.