Wendy Rose Essay - Critical Essays

Rose, Wendy (Contemporary Literary Criticism)


Wendy Rose 1948–

(Born Bronwen Elizabeth Edwards; also wrote under the pseudonym Chiron Khanshendel) American poet, nonfiction writer, artist, educator, and anthropologist.

The following entry provides an overview of Rose's career through 1994.

Born and raised in an urban setting far removed from reservation life and the influence of her Native American relations, Rose is noted for poetry which examines the experiences of mixed-blood Native Americans estranged from both Native and white societies. A well-regarded anthropologist and an accomplished visual artist, Rose is additionally known for her ardent support of efforts to establish a place for Native literature within the American literary canon.

Biographical Information

Born in Oakland, California, Rose is of Miwok and Hopiancestry. Raised in a predominantly white community near San Francisco, she was alienated from her Native roots throughout her youth. Her mother, who was of Miwok heritage, refused to acknowledge her Amerindian ancestry, and although Rose's father was a full-blooded Hopi, she was denied membership in her father's tribe because acceptance is matrilineally determined. Furthermore, Rose's childhood peers, mimicking the prejudices of their parents, often teased her about her heritage; the resulting sense of loneliness prompted Rose to express herself through writing, painting, drawing, and singing. After dropping out of high school she joined the American Indian Movement—at the time an activist, sometimes radical, political organization—and later took part in their protest occupation of Alcatraz. Her professional writing career began with the publication of poetry in journals and anthologies under the pseudonym Chiron Khanshendel. In 1976 she graduated with a B.A. in anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley, where she also earned an M.A. in 1978, and later became a lecturer in Native American studies. Rose occasionally exhibits her artwork around the United States and provides designs for various Native American organizations.

Major Works

In addition to treating ecological and feminist issues, Rose's poetry incorporates her own experiences and those of other mixed-blood Native Americans who, separated from their tribal culture and alienated by the white society in which they live, are searching for a sense of identity and community. For example, in such poems as "The well-intentioned question," from the Pulitzer Prize-nominated Lost Copper (1980), Rose documents her feelings of marginalization and her desire to be part of the Native community: "My Indian name listens // for footsteps / stopping short of my door / then leaving forever." Her experiences in academia—where, she argues, Native writings are viewed as a fad and not serious literature—were first captured in Academic Squaw (1977), and her background in anthropology and involvement with various Native American organizations inspires much of the imagery and history employed in her poetry. In The Halfbreed Chronicles, and Other Poems (1985), written while she was studying anthropology as an undergraduate at Berkeley, Rose's focus on the marginalized mixed-blood Amerindian was expanded to include other minorities, such as Japanese Americans and Native Americans from Mexico. She has stated: "You don't think of these people in the same sense as you usually think of half-breeds. But my point is that, in an important way, the way I grew up is symptomatic of something much larger than Indian-white relations. History and circumstance have made half-breeds of all of us."

Critical Reception

Rose's poetry has been praised for capturing the pain and confusion of the Native American experience and for making it accessible to a non-Native audience. Critics note that much of Rose's work employs elements of Native American songs and chants and is preoccupied with spirituality, communion with the natural world, and the encroachment of white culture on Native society. Although some commentators assert that Rose's use of language masks her feelings, others note a sense of urgency and bitterness in her work and maintain that it is fueled by raw, unbridled emotion. Jamake Highwater has commented: "[Rose's] lines are haunted by an unresolved search for a personal as well as a tribal sense of identity. That search gives her words strength and spirit. It dissolves the barrier of race with which she cautiously surrounds [herself], and it gives us access to her pain. In that pain we are all related."

Principal Works

Hopi Roadrunner Dancing (poetry) 1973
Long Division: A Tribal History (poetry) 1976
Academic Squaw: Report to the World from the Ivory Tower (poetry) 1977
Aboriginal Tattooing in California (nonfiction) 1979
Builder Kachina: A Home-Going Cycle (poetry) 1979
Lost Copper (poetry) 1980
What Happened When the Hopi Hit New York (poetry) 1982
The Halfbreed Chronicles, and Other Poems (poetry) 1985
Going to War with All My Relations: New and Selected Poems (poetry) 1993
Bone Dance: New and Selected Poems, 1965–1993 (poetry) 1994

(The entire section is 70 words.)


Kenneth Lincoln (review date Spring-Summer 1982)

SOURCE: "Finding the Loss," in Parnassus: Poetry in Review, Vol. 10, No. 1, 1982, pp. 285-96.

[An American educator and critic, Lincoln has written several critical studies of Native American literature and culture. In the following excerpt, he offers a thematic and stylistic analysis of Lost Copper.]

Drop a kernel of corn on a rock
and say a prayer. It will shoot up
proud and green, tassel out,
pull the next crop from the thunderheads.
That's the Hopi way.
If the corn doesn't grow
you eat the rocks,
drink the...

(The entire section is 2355 words.)

Robert Hauptman (review date November 1983)

SOURCE: A review of What Happened When the Hopi Hit New York, in The Small Press Review, Vol. 15, No. 11, November, 1983, p. 1.

[In the following review, Hauptman provides a highly positive assessment of What Happened When the Hopi Hit New York.]

We have recently witnessed the emergence of a strong Native American literature with national visibility, if only limited recognition. Female poets like Joy Harjo, Paula Gunn Allen, Linda Hogan, Leslie Silko, and Anita Endrezze Probst have contributed much to this rich vision. Wendy Rose's What Happened When The Hopi Hit New York spirals forth from a native American matrix, combines indigenous concerns with...

(The entire section is 349 words.)

Paula Gunn Allen (essay date 1986)

SOURCE: "This Wilderness in My Blood: Spiritual Foundations of the Poetry of Five American Indian Women," in The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Traditions, Beacon Press, 1992, pp. 165-83.

[Allen is a highly respected Native American novelist, poet, nonfiction writer, and critic. In the following excerpt from her book, originally published in 1986, she concludes that "the social, political, interpersonal, and personal images and statements [Rose] forms become metaphors for spirit-infused consciousness—a thrust toward uniting fragmented elements of her life that she shares with the other Indian women writers."]

Born and raised in Richmond,...

(The entire section is 699 words.)

Jamake Highwater (review date January-February 1992)

SOURCE: A review of Lost Copper, in The American Book Review, Vol. 4, No. 2, January-February, 1992, pp. 16-17.

[Of Blackfeet and Cherokee heritage, Highwater is an American novelist, poet, author of children's books, and nonfiction writer who has written over a dozen critical and creative works on Native American culture. In the following excerpt, he offers a generally favorable assessment of Lost Copper, emphasizing Rose's incorporation of personal pain and anger in her poetry.]

The images created by Wendy Rose are … compelling and alive. She is clearly a poet with an enormous capacity for feeling. Her works tend to cry out, to howl. The dirge has...

(The entire section is 311 words.)

Publishers Weekly (review date 8 February 1993)

SOURCE: A review of Going to War with All My Relations, in Publishers Weekly, Vol. 240, No. 6, February 8, 1993, p. 81.

[The following excerpt is a laudatory review of Going to War with All My Relations.]

The title of Rose's … new collection [Going to War with All My Relations] aptly points to the complexion of her poems. A descendant of the Hopi and Miwok tribes, the poet-as-shaman gives voice to her brothers and sisters: "I let my tongue lick / your bones back together … / I light the fire / to heat your lips. / I touch your spirit / that was never in danger," she intones in a poem about the Anishnabec Occupation. Meshing her own experience with...

(The entire section is 229 words.)

Whitney Scott (review date 15 February 1994)

SOURCE: A review of Bone Dance: New and Selected Poems, 1965–1993, in Booklist, Vol. 90, No. 12, February 15, 1994, p. 1054.

[Below, Scott favorably reviews Bone Dance.]

"Too city-stupid to know any better, I am left with the paper and pen for my magic," Rose, a Hopi, writes as she realizes, at 45, that the old Native American teachings and ceremonial ways are strong. Her poems [in Bone Dance: New and Selected Poems, 1965–1993] trace her evolving linkage not only to Native American issues but to related concerns on a global level. She explores her "half breedness" not as a condition of genetics, ancestry, or race but as a condition of history, a...

(The entire section is 173 words.)

Further Reading


Ratner, Rochelle. Review of The Halfbreed Chronicles, and Other Poems, by Wendy Rose. Library Journal 111, No. 1 (January 1986): 89.

Positive assessment of The Halfbreed Chronicles.


Coltelli, Laura. "Wendy Rose." In her Winged Words: American Indian Writers Speak. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990, pp. 121-33.

Rose discusses themes and images in her work and her background in anthropology.

Hunter, Carol. "A MELUS Interview: Wendy Rose." MELUS 10, No. 3 (Fall...

(The entire section is 113 words.)