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.
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.
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."
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."