“So watch me be the artist who was born readymade. Watch me take my lemons and make the best goddamn lemonade.” These words, from the staged memoir County of Kings captures the essence of Lemon Anderson’s life, and frame the award-winning documentary Lemon, about the Brooklyn-born poet and playwright.
After leaving Rikers Island, Anderson discovers poetry at the age of 20 and is a break out star on Russell Simmons’ Def Poetry Jam, both the weekly series and especially Simmons’ award-winning 2003 Broadway play of the same name. However after finding some acclaim and running through his fast earnings, he is back to square peg one, with no income and a family to support. He also finds himself back in the projects, living in tight quarters with his wife, his wife’s family and at least 13 people in his in-laws’ home. He is desperate to get out, and he has what has sustained him for many years—his poetry. In a fantastic documentary that had me glued to my seat, Anderson pays homage to his late mother who died as a result of drugs and AIDS, and his big brother with whom he was left after his mother’s death. I call him a Def Jam poet/activist who was determined to, as he says, make lemonade out of the figurative lemons that he had been dealt and the figurative lemons that he brought to his own doorstep, gaining the distinction of being a three-time felon. But he ends up a one-time Tony Award winner.
Lemon delves into six years of the poet’s life, as he goes back in forth trying to find and keep his niche in spoken word and performance art. He combs over stacks of personal notes detailing his mother’s addiction and trips to the Methadone clinic; his growing up with his brother and resorting to petty criminal acts to get by, He attracts folks at the American Place Theatre who invest in his production, as well as his life. They give him an outlet to reach students. Although there isn’t much money, everyone is filled with dreams. But luck comes Anderson’s way in the form of the prestigious Public Theater in New York, who want to just outright take over the reins of this production, without giving much credit or funds to American Place Theatre. Anderson is faced with hard decisions that affect friendships, but that will finally bring his story to a wider audience.
I loved Lemon, and I just fell in love with Anderson, because he was determined to share his story with others, so that it might be a light to propel those on the sidelines; those afflicted by poverty and bad circumstances to rise up and believe that they can do better. His poem where he urges rich people to pay attention to the poor, underclass is riveting.
After his performances at the Public Theater, Anderson received many accolades: In 2011, he was chosen to join the Sundance Institute’s Playwrights Retreat and the TED organization invited him to perform at the inaugural TEDYouth event, which was live streamed in 16 countries. In the spring of 2012, Anderson traveled to Australia and New Zealand where he participated in the Sydney Writers Festival and the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival.
Lemon is produced with support from Spike Lee, Kanye West, Mos Def, Talib Kweli and others. The film’s writers are Laura Brownson and Beth Levison. It is available on DVD and VOD October 16 from Cinema Libre. Visit www.cinemalibrestudio.com
It will also be shown on Public Broadcasting Television October 19, as part of the culture series VOCES.