The childhood experiences of one woman who grew up in Excelsior Springs helped to inspire her book that explores what she describes as the exclusionary politics of the Midwest.
Berry Grass said her new book, “Hall of Waters” explores her experiences growing in Excelsior, as well as the relationship she shared with her father. She said she describes the book as “very political” and explores what causes Midwestern life to lead so many residents to places of prejudice.
“Across the country, both in rural areas and in cities, bigotry and racial discrimination are being espoused in a more public way for a variety of reasons,” she said.
Citing the Critical Race Theory which provides an academic critical analysis of race and racism from a legal point of view, Grass said the concept of race was only created about 500 years ago. It differs from ethnicity, she said. European religious figures, politicians and scientists created the concept of “whiteness” regarding race, Grass said, due to a sense of superiority. They created the concept because they believed white people to be closer to God in the pantheon of creation, she said.
Grass composed the book with several small pieces titled after various springs located throughout town. Describing the creative process as organic, she said she would think about the location and see what memories came to mind.
The result turned into a “patchwork memoir” of her childhood.
Grass said the book also explores the past struggles in what she described as a relationship containing many “downs and ups” with her father.
“I couldn’t write honestly about my childhood without writing honestly about all the emotional struggle,” she said.
She said she understands many in Excelsior will take the book hard. However, she said readers outside the community will be able to relate to Excelsior.
“By no means am I trying to single out Excelsior Springs as a uniquely bad, a uniquely racist place because I don’t think it is at all, I think it’s very normal and common in its racism,” she said.
Grass also wove an exploration of the art of Donald Judd throughout the book. She said she finds it interesting the community doesn’t discuss or revere one of the more celebrated American sculptures, who also came from Excelsior. The Judd Foundation, which maintains and preserves Judd’s permanent art installations in New York and Marfa, Texas describes Judd as one of the most significant artists of the twentieth century.
“His radical ideas and work continue to provoke and influence the fields of art, architecture and design,” the website said.
More information on Donald Judd’s life and art can be found at juddfoundation.org.
Grass said many Midwest bookstores will not automatically carry “Hall of Waters,” but residents can ask their local bookstores to stock it. She said she also hopes residents ask their local libraries to stock her book. It can also be purchased at theoperatingsystem.org.
Grass said she hopes her book simply causes people to take a closer look at their lives and ideals.
“What I would love, in particular, out of this book is for white readers in America to … if they don’t already, (to) recognize the deep amount of prejudice and discrimination that has come into constructing the social identity of whiteness itself,” she said.