“The love stories just keep unfolding,” laughs Crystal C. Mercer as she reflects back on the happenstance and hard work that continues to sprinkle magic into her life.
To say Mercer is an all-around Afro-creative doesn’t begin to stitch together the story of who she is. Mercer channels her many talents into a staggering array of projects. She is an author, activist, artist, storyteller, poet and educator. And in the pages of her debut book “A Love Story Waiting to Happen,” Mercer shares the vulnerable bits of herself in an unflinching, incredibly real manner.
Born and raised in Little Rock, Mercer is the daughter of the late Christopher Columbus Mercer Jr., one of the first black men to receive a law degree at the University of Arkansas and who went on to become a prominent civil rights lawyer and advisor to Daisy Bates during the 1957 desegregation of Little Rock Central High School.
“I feel like it was his calling to be this humanitarian in Little Rock and make a conscious decision to stay in Little Rock, and I just felt like I needed to do the same thing,” she says. “I’m not an attorney, but I use my art for activism. And if I didn’t have that example of my father, I don’t think it would be as potent or poignant as it has been to use my voice for that.”
Growing up, Mercer’s parents introduced her to a variety of black authors; she even read “Roots” before she went to preschool. Now, Mercer can pinpoint the moment her love for poetry first began. She was in her third-grade class learning about haikus. Her teacher asked the class to write about anything they liked as long as it stayed within the structure. From there, Mercer began writing haikus, then free verse, rhyme and iambic pentameter. She knew then she was a poet, but it was her father who would encourage her to share her poetry with the world.
Toward the end of his life, Mercer’s father was in and out of the hospital and hospice. She had been living in Baltimore teaching drama at a public charter school but moved back when her father’s health declined. She spent her time with him watching court TV and writing poems about her experience at the hospital with her dad, which she decided to share with him.
“And he said, ‘What you have to say is important. I feel that people will really be inspired and touched by what you have to say. You’re a wordsmith. You’re compassionate. You have a personality that attracts people. Share it.’”
So she did. Mercer began sharing her poems on Facebook, and people followed her journey as she posted. Mercer leaned into the world of poetry, joining a poetry troupe and becoming more comfortable with being vulnerable.
“It was like, I’m going to be myself more,” she says. “When people see me perform on stage, it won’t just be a character, it’ll be me.”
Because the world works in mysterious ways, Mercer had considered compiling her poems into a book when she ran into a friend at the Walgreens on 17th and Main streets. KOKY-FM 102.1 host Sonta Jean told Mercer she wanted to connect her with a local publisher. Days later, Mercer met with Iris M. Williams, the owner of The Butterfly Typeface Publishing. The next week, Mercer signed a contract and started working on the book. Eight months later, “A Love Story Waiting to Happen” was born.
The book is an intimate look into Mercer’s soul. It’s broken up into nine sections: ebb and flow, disruption, chaos and calm, good and bad, ugly and lovely. Under those sections, Mercer pens poems that speak directly to these cycles she’s journeyed through. Inside the pages, she shares achingly relatable stories that beg to be read again and again, but slower.
Working on the book made Mercer realize how strong she is and how baring the unarmored side of yourself can be so much more freeing than putting on a brave face for the world.
“I felt like okay, honesty is the best policy. I’m going to tell myself the truth,” she says. “I started writing myself notes on the mirror in Sharpie. ‘You are the baddest woman in the universe. Period.’ ‘I love you. Exclamation mark.’ ‘Truth is a spell that should be cast every day. Squiggly.’ This was my vision board. Everything I wanted to see in me, it was always in front of me, in my head, because I said it, I thought about it, I wrote about it. And in my mirror, as I was brushing my teeth, getting ready for the day, pulling out my afro.”
Through her poetry, Mercer has been able to share the softer, sweeter sides of herself. Poetry has allowed her to connect with people who are struggling with the same things she has. Poetry has also allowed her to document her life in real time.
“Nina Simone said the role of an artist is to document the times,” Mercer says. “Five hundred years from now, if I never have a baby, if there’s never a picture of my dog found in a frame, there will be this book somewhere. There will be other books that I’m going to write that will be published that will be sitting on somebody’s shelf or in somebody’s digital slideshare and they can read about what happened.
“Poetry is life. Poetry is everything.”
16th Annual Arkansas Literary Festival
Mercer in Motion
Mercer will share her poems from “A Love Story Waiting to Happen” at the upcoming Arkansas Literary Festival. She’ll also share poems about her experiences living in Accra, Ghana, where she did a capstone and an international public service project through the Clinton School of Public Service.
An avid supporter of the fest and longtime volunteer, it’ll be a full-circle moment for her to sit in the author’s seat rather than in the audience this time around.
“I love the Lit Fest. I’m ready for it every April,” Mercer says. “And April is National Poetry Month, so it’s kind of perfect that it happens at the same time.”