Published on September 7, 2013 by Amy
Wendy Rose was born Bronwen Elizabeth Edwards on May 7, 1948, in Oakland, California. She came from a mixed-blood family (her father was Hopi; her mother could trace her lineage from both Miwok and European descent). As a teenager, she dropped out of high school and became connected with the bohemian scene in San Francisco. Her experiences in the city and the struggle in finding her identity within her mixed lineage would be major influences on the poetry she was then beginning, and works she would later produce. In 1966, Rose began a scholastic endeavor that would carry her through 1980. Through these years, she was enrolled in Cabrillo and Contra Costa Junior Colleges and the University of California, Berkeley, where she would go on to complete her Ph.D. in Anthropology. Balancing her academic interests with her artistic, Rose published five volumes of poetry during this period of her life. Since completing her Ph.D. , Rose has remained in the world of academia, heading the American Indian Studies Program at Fresno City College in Fresno, California. She has been active in such divergent roles as teacher, researcher, consultant, editor, panelist, bibliographer, and advisor. She is a member of the American Federation of Teachers and has also served as a facilitator for the Association of Non-Federally Recognized California Tribes. Such diversity is also characteristic of Rose as an artist, who not only writes, but draws and paints as well.
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Diversity is also apparent in the numerous books of poetry that Rose has produced. Each collection of poems represents a period in Rose’s own life, but from a multitude of perspectives that covers a broad range of the human experience. Her first collection of poems, Hopi Roadrunner Dancing (1973), deals with such issues as her involvement in the American Indian movements that were taking place in the 1960s and 1970s to her own struggles with personal and cultural identity. Academic Squaw: Reports to the World From the Ivory Tower (1977) begins a theme which persists in several of her poems, that of the duality between scholar and subject. It was during this period in her academic pursuits where she began to see herself in much of the material she was studying. In Lost Copper (1986) Rose re-affirms her connection with the earth, in a work that N. Scott Momaday describes as a collection of “songs. ” Additionally, Rose has kept a political flair within the broad framework of her writing, blending a feminist perspective with that of a woman of color.
Bringing together her personal and political views, Rose deals with the concept of “whiteshamanism” in some of her prose writings. “Whiteshamanism” refers to non-Indians taking on a literary “shaman” identity to which they are not entitled. Rose despises such an artistic stance, viewing it in terms of the exploitation, co-modification, and injustice that it represents. Her writings on the concept of “whiteshamanism” may be viewed as a converging point for an acceptable understanding of the diverse themes that she has put forth in her poetry. As she states in the introduction of her retrospective collection Bone Dance (1994) that, “the personal is political,” we come to understand that the diversity of Rose’s poetry is not about distinctions, but about wholeness. Her contempt for the “whiteshaman” is out of the lack of wholeness that they represent, a wholeness that she has struggled to define in herself and her work. As she was struggling to find her identity within her mixed lineage and culture, using poetry to express herself, the “whiteshaman” simply stole from her culture. As her poetry bespeaks the position of injustice, the “whiteshaman” spoke from a privileged position. Thus, as difficult as it is to summarize the works of Wendy Rose, her writings on “whiteshamanism” bring together different strands of themes that appear throughout her poetry.