If you happen to run into Robert Lashley before or after one of his readings, he's either a ball of anxious energy or a ball of laughs. But when he gets up onstage, he converts that energy into a physical projection of lyrical power. You know how some poets speak with poet voice? Lashley doesn't speak with poet voice. He speaks quickly and loudly. He embodies the pain and joy in the poems—sometimes he seems ecstatic, sometimes he seems fed up at the world, sometimes he'll even sing. It's a little bit preacher-like.
He told me recently: "I've had some blues. When I write, I try to transform those blues into things that are beautiful."
Lashley grew up in the Hillside Terrace projects, a primarily black section of the Hilltop neighborhood in Tacoma. "I just saw a whole lot," he said. He chronicles his time growing up in Hilltop during the violence of the 1990s in The Homeboy Songs, a book that made Small Press Distribution's best-seller list. This year, Lashley won a grant from Artist Trust to continue work on his new book, Up South, in which Lashley says he's challenging himself to dig deeper, to "tell the story of the myths, the folklore, and the rituals of the black people who came through Tacoma and Seattle from the South."
Robert Lashley will be celebrated at the free Stranger Genius Awards party on September 24 at the Moore Theatre. Five artists will go home with $5,000 each, no strings attached, thanks to our generous sponsors. To see all 15 nominees this year, go to thestranger.com/genius2016.