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Lemon  Andersen

Lemon Andersen

Poet & Actor


Lemon Andersen is a performance artist, playwright, brand architect, and Tony Award-winning poet. He first garnered national attention appearing in Russell Simmons’ “Def Poetry Jam” on Broadway in 2002, which won a Tony Award for Best Special Theatrical Event and netted Andersen a Drama Desk nomination for his writing. Andersen also appeared in eight episodes of HBO’s ode to spoken word, Def Poetry. Read More >

Over the past decade, Andersen has performed in venues across the country, from New York’s Nuyorican Poets Cafe to Hollywood’s Kodak Theater. He has appeared in four Spike Lee films, including Inside Man opposite Denzel Washington and The Soloist with Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx, and was the subject of the documentary Lemon, a look at his journey from three-time felon to bold-faced name—and how leaving one’s past behind just isn’t that simple. Lemon’s past includes a life of serious crime after being orphaned when his mother, father, and stepfather died from complications of heroin abuse and AIDS, causes he continues to fight and advocate for today. 

In 2011, TED invited Andersen to perform at their inaugural TEDYouth event, live streamed to 16 countries. He was also selected to join the Sundance Institute's Playwrights Retreat that same year and, in the spring of 2012, he participated in Australia's Sydney Writers’ Festival and New Zealand's Auckland Writers & Readers Festival.

Andersen’s portfolio also includes work in branding, which he began in 2003 when Wieden+Kennedy enlisted him to create an original poem encapsulating their vision for LeBron James and Nike Basketball. Nike credits Andersen’s prose and command performance of the poem “King” as having been an invaluable touch in closing their deal with James.

Lemon Andersen’s latest endeavor is “ToasT,” a new play commissioned by the Sundance Institute. He has been interviewed and profiled by NPR, The New York Times, NBC, and The Wall Street Journal and has led college workshops, speaking engagements, and performances at campuses ranging from the University of Wisconsin and Syracuse University to the University of Michigan and the University of California-Berkeley.

Andersen earned his classically trained chops at the Public Theater’s Shakespeare Lab and his work has received support from the Sundance Institute, Ford Foundation, Multi-Arts Production Fund, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. As a guest instructor at the esteemed Stella Adler Studio, Andersen developed the first spoken word intensive to be offered at an actors’ conservatory.

Spike Lee produced Andersen’s coming-of-age autobiographical “County of Kings” at the Public Theater, for which Andersen received an acclaimed review from Ben Brantley of The New York Times. Since its 2009 debut, “County of Kings” has been staged in the United States, Europe, and South Africa. Published in 2010, the play’s script was awarded the New York Book Festival’s Grand Prize.

Andersen has performed at such iconic venues as Harlem's Apollo Theater, San Francisco’s Theatre on the Square, Gammage in Arizona, Charleston’s Spoleto Festival, Brooklyn’s Irondale Center, the Chicago Theatre, New York State’s Spiegeltent, and the Kodak and Montalban Theatres in Los Angeles. Read Less ^

Speaker Videos

TEDx: Please Don't Take My Air Jordans

Speech Topics

Creating for Ethnic Minorities

As a playwright, speaker Lemon Andersen delves into various cultural backgrounds to create characters his audiences may not necessarily be familiar with. In his play "ToasT," for instance, he breathes life into the fabled "Dolomite" by giving him the language of 1971 "blaxploitation," thereby creating a strong black character even though Andersen himself is not African American. Read More >

Speaking to campuses and associations around the country, Andersen employs the vernacular of different ethnic minorities to introduce students and other groups to these different voices and perspectives. He then provides insight on how to write - and create - these different voices in order to generate pertinent dialogue on diversity in America. Read Less ^

The New Latino

As past elections have all too clearly shown, Latinos in the US have become a prized commodity. Politicians on either end of the spectrum lump Hispanics together in a single category to obtain their votes; but by doing so, they fail to recognize the vast differences that exist among various Latino groups. Hispanics from the Dominican Republic, for instance, have a drastically different history and culture than Chicanos from Mexico and partake in different sociopolitical conversations. Read More >

In this presentation, speaker Lemon Andersen discusses the cultural differences and common threads among various groups of Latinos in the US as a representative of the "new Latino," which he defines as an American of Hispanic origin who no longer speaks Spanish and struggles with his or her identity as a Hispanic American. As a powerful voice in the theatre, Andersen uses art to help new Latinos - whether of Caribbean or Mexican descent - carve an identity for themselves in the US. Read Less ^

Lemon: Breaking in the Door to Have Your Voice Heard

To speaker Lemon Andersen, poetry is a weapon he wields to bring his audience to the theatre. In this presentation, he shares his struggle in finding his way to the stage - from growing up with parents addicted to heroin to becoming a three-time felon to winning a Tony Award for his work with "Def Poetry Jam." Read More >

He will present the documentary Lemon, a feature-length film that follows his desperate battle to move into a brighter future while asking the question, "can any of us really escape the past?" Andersen inspires his audience to find their voice and let it be heard. Read Less ^

Spoken Word & Branding

Ever since Wieden+Kennedy enlisted him to create an original poem encapsulating their vision for LeBron James and Nike Basketball, speaker Lemon Andersen has produced unique work for brands, from products to people. In a campaign backed by Boost Mobile for the 2011 NBA playoffs, he penned an original piece centering on Carmelo Anthony's blockbuster trade to the New York Knicks. His creative writing formed the campaign's backbone and Spike Lee directed Carmelo in a commercial spot featuring Andersen’s writing and voiceover. Read More >

In this presentation, speaker Lemon Andersen shares how he adapts spoken word to his brand work to share a distinct cultural perspective. Read Less ^

Books & Media


County of Kings