Award-winning textile artist, author, activist and proud auntie Crystal C. Mercer discusses the cultural and familial inspiration behind her upcoming all-ages book From Cotton to Silk: The Magic of Black Hair.
WORDS / SHANNON MCGILL
PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE ARTIST
Zoom should have a filter or background that makes everyone feel the way it does when artist Crystal C. Mercer pops up on the end of our devices; her vibe takes hold from miles away before the camera reveals her relaxing in her space, which is adorned with her own creative jewelry, art and clothing. You can almost smell the shea butter when she throws her head back to laugh; it’s a divine treat. A slight gesture with her hand takes your eyes to a handmade tapestry behind her, which happens to be to be a gift to be passed to her nieces and the inspiration for her upcoming children’s book From Cotton to Silk: The Magic of Black Hair. We are in the presence of royalty, please bow for the Queen of Southwest Little Rock where the block stays hot and she floats among the flames, exposing its beauty and opulence wherever she chooses to land.
Mercer—textile designer, actor, activist, poet, published author, playwright, business owner and world-traveling auntie—created a gift in From Cotton to Silk: The Magic of Black Hair that pays homage to a lifetime of being deliciously Black from head to toe and is readable for both beginners and seasoned readers. This literary masterpiece, designed with her nieces in mind, is a must-read for anyone with natural hair, who loves someone with natural hair, or who wants to enjoy a glimpse inside of a cultural evolution shaped through divine strength and persecution. Black is so beautiful, and From Cotton to Silk: The Magic of Black Hair embodies this. Mercer spent nearly 500 hours hand-stitching the authentic cloth artwork that accompanies the book’s text: a sweet poem written as a reminder that we are beautiful in all of our curly-coily glory.
The book began as an idea in Ghana, where Mercer had accepted a life-changing opportunity as the artist-in-residence for The Clinton School of Public Service. The rich and familiar history displayed proudly throughout the country gifted her a freedom she’d never experienced before. Her eyes take on a faraway gaze as she recounts the unimaginable opulence and beauty of her experiences in Africa. “I felt like I could exist without question.”
While there, she remained in close contact with her nieces in New York via email and video chat.
“I really missed my nieces and I don’t want them to grow up without me. I don’t want them to feel like I wasn’t there for them, so I’m always writing poems or stories. I want them to always remember what it’s like to feel free in their own skin.” While she lived in Ghana and experienced all that is Wakanda Forever, Mercer composed a poem she wished she had been able to read as a child. Her nieces loved the piece, which featured them and Mercer’s late grandmother and includes an essential tutorial on caring for and styling natural hair.
After returning stateside, Crystal connected with a representative of Et Alia Press who believed in her vision, transforming Mercer’s poem into a book filled with Mercer’s original artwork, which she intends to gift to her nieces as an heirloom. Digital magic will allow us the pleasure of sharing this labor of love; signed copies are currently available for preorder, and the book will be released on March 20 to celebrate her grandmother’s birth.
Preorder From Cotton to Silk: The Magic of Black Hair at the Et Alia Press website. You can also go to Mercer’s personal website to get your hands on her previous book called A Love Story Waiting to Happen, which is meant for an older audience. How blessed are we to see the book we wished we’d had as little kids become part of history for our future Kings and Queens? Beyond measure.
PRE-ORDER / ETALIAPRESS.COM
VISIT / CRYSTALCMERCER.COM