Writing Truth and Inspiring Change

Crystal deGregory photo

By Kyra Arena

In the realm of history and storytelling, a luminary has emerged: Crystal A. deGregory. She recently published her debut book Magic and Mortal, a collection of poems celebrating her journey through Black girlhood and womanhood. “MandM, as I affectionately call her, delves into the nuanced facets of my Black girlhood, womanhood, and Caribbeanness,” deGregory said. “As a concept, it embarks readers on a journey through the making of historically-Black institutions and their contributions toward cultural identity through the lenses of personal triumph, collective joy, death, grief, and everything in between.” The themes of her book resonate universally, especially with those who champion Black life and those who are engaged in parallel struggles for survival. 

Creating Magic and Mortal was not an easy task. Throughout the entire process—compilation, editing, designing, and printing—deGregory was sicker than she had ever been in her entire life. She was also mourning the version of herself that existed before surviving a toxic workplace, Hurricane Dorian, Nashville’s spring 2020 tornadoes, and Covid-19. “They each left an indelible mark, changing me in ways I had not foreseen possible,” stated deGregory. “However, confronting the fragility of life felt more like a wake-up call to its myriad possibilities than staring down the barrel of a loaded gun.” And thus, Magic and Mortal was born.

When deGregory first approached Magic and Mortal, she applied her usual writing method—which always begins with unwavering honesty. “Most of my pieces are born in real-time responses to moments of joy or, often, profound pain. Through freewriting, I address prominent historical events with the same intimacy as personal losses,” deGregory said. Her creative process is simple, yet effective. “I observe no specific rituals other than writing exclusively about things about which I deeply care.”

In 1999, deGregory embarked on her educational journey at Fisk University, where she was inducted into the Delta of Tennessee chapter of ΦBK. Her academic journey continued, culminating a Master of Arts and Doctor of Philosophy in history from Vanderbilt University, as well as a Master of Education from Tennessee State University. “My background in the liberal arts informs every aspect of my professional and personal life. As a historian, I am acutely aware that everyone and everything has a story, often with multiple sides. This awareness fuels my desire and deepens my perspective as an author, allowing me to narrate the story of the lion, whether as the hunter or the prey,” she said.

deGregory is the founding director of the Mary McLeod Bethune Center for the Study of Women and Girls in Daytona Beach, Florida, an institution committed to addressing the complex challenges faced by women and girls in the American context and on a global scale. In addition to this, she assumes an executive role for two other pivotal initiatives: HBCU Story and Dorian and Beyond. Likewise, she is a director for the Tennessee Historical Society, where she aids in educating the people of Tennessee about their state’s history; on the Advisory Board for the Rosenwald collections at Fisk University; and on the Black Heritage Advisory Committee for Tennessee State Parks. Her commitment to education, history, and the preservation of culture is indeed a source of inspiration and admiration.

Currently, deGregory is pouring her creative energy into many projects. She’s writing op-eds for outlets such as DIVERSE and The HBCU Times, and actively bringing her first history book, “Greatest Good: Nashville’s Black Colleges, Their Students, and the Fight for Freedom, Justice, and Equality,” to print through Vanderbilt University Press, where it is under contract. Simultaneously, she’s engaging in research and potential writing about remarkable Black women heroes. And finally, she’s pondering how to honor the story of Hurricane Dorian in The Bahamas through a book. “In all my future works, readers can anticipate the same thing: an unwavering commitment to truth-telling,” deGregory said.

This is just a glimpse into the extraordinary life of Crystal A. deGregory, who is leaving her mark on academia, history, and the empowerment of Black women and girls. Look more into deGregory’s work, order Magic and Mortal, and stay updated on her latest endeavors on her website.

Kyra Arena is a graduate student studying curriculum and instruction at the University of Connecticut, where she also obtained her Bachelor of Arts in English and Bachelor of Science in English Education. She was proudly inducted into Phi Beta Kappa there in May 2023. The University of Connecticut is home to the Epsilon of Connecticut chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.