Brooklyn-based Tony Award-winning poet and playwright Lemon Andersen will make his Carbondale premiere in the show Project Verse, taking place Friday, Feb. 14, at the Crystal Theatre. Carbondale wordsmith Wade Newsom, along with a select group of local poets, will warm up the stage for Andersen.
In Project Verse, Andersen will share stories and poetry that create a vivid portrait of his adverse yet often humorous coming-of-age experiences while growing up in Brooklyn in the ’80s and ’90s. Andersen’s poems touch on young love, sibling rivalry, juvenile crime, addiction and, ultimately, personal triumph toward self-discovery and redemption.
Andersen received a Tony Award in 2003 for his work in the Broadway run of Russell Simmons’ “Def Poetry Jam,” which was subsequently broadcast for six seasons on HBO. He is the subject of the documentary “Lemon,” chronicling his life in the projects and his return to the stage. His stage memoir, “County of Kings,” was produced by Spike Lee and debuted in 2009.
Newsom of Carbondale is organizing Project Verse. He is a Carbondale poet and business owner who first garnered notable attention with his spoken word performances at the 5Point Film Festival in 2013. He has since performed in New York City and in numerous venues in Colorado. Newsom said when he saw Andersen’s documentary, he gained a new respect for artists, Andersen in particular.
“That film inspired me to start taking my writing more seriously with the idea that I might start sharing it,” Newsom said. “I wanted to learn from the best, so when I had the opportunity to go to New York for one of Lemon’s workshops, I went … twice.”
Newsom’s first trip was for a workshop with Andersen and a poetry slam with The Brooklyn Poets. The second was for a book release party for Andersen’s “Straightrazor.”
“He really just took me under his wing before the show, introducing me to some of his family and childhood friends. He asked me a lot of questions and gave me some advice,” Newsom said. The two stayed in touch, each stating the other was “always welcome in my country.” It wasn’t long before Newsom invited Andersen to Colorado.
Timing worked out well with the Aspen Writers’ Foundation, which is simultaneously hosting two other nationally known poets — Myrlin Hepworth and Logan Phillips — to work with students in the Roaring Fork Valley schools. The foundation was eager to work with Newsom to sponsor Andersen’s visit. The foundation’s free event “Aloud! High Altitude Poetry Jam” on Thursday at the Wheeler Opera House in Aspen showcased Andersen, Hepworth and Phillips, along with featured students.
For Newsom, Project Verse is a chance to support the arts and is “an amazing opportunity” for the Carbondale community to experience something different.
“I don’t care if you like poetry or not, you’ll love Lemon. This is an opportunity to watch a Tony Award-winning artist perform in a small intimate venue,” Newsom said. “When I went to Lemon’s show in Brooklyn, there were people there who grew up with Lemon in the projects, there were people there from the best neighborhoods in Manhattan and everybody in between. And everybody left that show wanting more.”
Project Verse is also made possible by The Crystal Theatre, Jaywalker, iThree Graphic Design, A New Path, The Blend Coffee Co. and other local poets in the Roaring Fork Valley.
The show begins at 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 14. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased at The Blend Coffee Co. at 1150 Highway 133, Carbondale, or the night of the show at the Crystal Theatre. For more information, call the shop at (970) 510-5048 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.