Slash Coleman ‘89 admits that he enrolled at Radford University to get away from his eccentric, but loving, family of artists. “I actually thought it was on the coast. I’d heard of Roanoke Island during my visits to the Outerbanks and I’d been surfing since I was 10 years old. Imagine my surprise when the Roanoke near Radford wasn’t the same one. In fact, I was landlocked.”
He says his time at RU was life-changing, from his experiences on campus to his friends he made along the way. He was an “undeclared major” until his junior year at RU when he was asked to write a reflective essay.
During that junior-year English class he wrote about a fishing trip that he and his father took together. His fishing line got caught in a “Winnie-the-Pooh-sized hornet nest” resulting in hundreds of stings between them. “I was really surprised by the praise that I received in class for that essay and was encouraged,” says Coleman. He then declared English as his major and began writing novels. By graduation he had written two.
“Through the next 15 years, I published a few short stories. I also amassed hundreds of rejection letters for my novels. I wanted to be a novelist so badly, I joined a writing group for support. The members of the group said that a lot of my fiction mimicked my life. They said ‘why don’t you just write about your life?’ I’ve found that I’m somewhat of a 'weird magnet,' which means weird things tend to happen to me and around me. My theory is that it’s some sort of family gene. The closer I stick to writing the truth the more interesting my writing actually is. Writing The Neon Man really sealed my work as a memoirist and a writer of writing true, personal stories.”
Coleman, who now resides in New York City, is a celebrated performer, storyteller, producer and author for his production “The Neon Man and Me,” dedicated to his best friend from college and Franklin County neon artist Mark Jamison ’90. When Jamison was electrocuted in a 2004 work accident in Salem, Coleman returned home to Richmond to honor his friend and leave a “care package” for Jamison’s son. There, Coleman created a solo show “The Neon Man and Me” - seven stories about friendship told by 30 characters, and an original score that Coleman plays on his guitar. He toured stages nationally with the production for six years and it enjoyed two short runs off-Broadway.
In 2010, his writing and performance career skyrocketed when his PBS special “The Neon Man and Me” became a national hit seen by more than 77 million viewers. In addition to winning the 2012 United Solo Award for Best Drama, the 2013 Storytelling World Award, Style Weekly’s Top 40 Under 40 Award, and a Groucho Award for Best Solo Performance, he performed his work on prestigious stages nationwide including TEDx, The International Storytelling Center, and Pete Seeger’s Clearwater Festival.
Now, Coleman is in the midst of his latest project, his memoir “The Bohemian Love Diaries,” which will be available in book stores everywhere on July 16. He will be featured on the Today Show July 18 at 10 a.m. to discuss the work. “The Bohemian Love Diaries” reads as a collection of diary entries from his travels across the globe, and several chapters feature his time at RU. “A lot of the things in the book are based on my memories, rather than historical facts. As an artist, my inspiration comes from my memories.” Such as when he and his fellow members of the performance jazz band Vegetation Information pitchforked plastic baby dolls from a wheelbarrow into the RU fountain to raise awareness of their next performance. From that escapade, they were required to visit university president Donald Dedmon’s office to explain themselves. His memoir also touches upon his failed romantic cross-country adventures to find his “true love.”
Coleman’s book tour will include a national tour, a reading at every subway stop in New York City, tweets every hour for 24 hours from a rocket ship, and an appearance on CBS 6 Morning Show in Richmond. Kirkus Review called the book “entertaining and full of humor and thoughtful introspection.” The Washington Post called Coleman “good off-beat company,” and Theatreonline.com said Coleman’s work is “a refreshingly joyful view of a child's world, discovering love, savoring hero worship, and the thoughtful realization of just how far we will go to accomplish a cherished dream."
In addition to his Neon Man work and launching his new book, Coleman’s storytelling has been featured in The Washington Post, The New York Times, American Theatre Magazine and multiple times on NPR including the series, “How Artists Make Money.” He also serves as Ask Uncle Slash – a relationship and dating advice columnist at howdoidate.com and is the personal perspectives blogger for Psychology Today, which posts his blog under the same name as his book “The Bohemian Love Diaries.”
Coleman says that finding your way in life is not easy, but it’s oftentimes the simplest things that help us connect to others. His advice to current RU students is to not worry about knowing exactly what they want to do. “Experience school rather than go through one track that sets you on the career path. Radford was essential in helping me find what I wanted to do and discover what I was meant to do. We live in a global and virtual world now where our connections are no longer limited by geography. These days, it’s quite feasible to walk out of Radford and become the next international sensation.”