- “A Blanket Woven of All These Different Threads”A Conversation with Wendy Rose
Wendy Rose’s powerful voice emerged in the early 1970s with the publication of her first volume of poetry, Hopi Roadrunner Dancing (1973), and subsequent volumes Lost Copper (1980) and The Half-Breed Chronicles (1985). Her participation in the American Indian Movement and her critique of white shamanism earned Rose a reputation as a critical and impassioned participant in the development of American Indian thought and criticism. Moreover, her confident voice on behalf of mixed-blood, urban, and detribalized Indians intervened in fierce debates about Indian identity. Refusing to be confined to just one discipline, Rose has been a painter and professor of anthropology in addition to her literary endeavors. Her most recent volume of poetry, Itch Like Crazy (2002), was published at a difficult time in Rose’s life, both personally and professionally.
On August 9, 2008, my colleague C. Lok Chua and I met with Wendy Rose and her husband Arthur Murata at their store, Oh Grow Up, in Oakhurst, California. Just a few months earlier, Rose had celebrated her sixtieth birthday. Thus, this interview was an opportunity to reflect on Rose’s career so far, revisiting some of her most influential works and gauging the evolution in her ideas. About five years earlier, Rose retired from her position in anthropology at Fresno City College because of poor health. Although much of her energy since then has been devoted to treating her thyroid condition, she still holds strong opinions about the complex identities that are becoming more characteristic of an increasingly globalized world. Surrounded by science-fiction paraphernalia and in front of [End Page 71] a window with striking views of the Sierra Nevadas, Rose gave powerful voice to her continued thinking about American Indian literature and experience. During the interview, we paused twice when customers entered the store; these breaks occurred at what seem now like natural breaks in our conversation.
At one point in the interview, Rose used the evocative phrase in the title, “a blanket woven of all these different threads,” a phrase that also could describe her life. Rose’s talents and abilities have been broad and deep; she has excelled as a poet, artist, and teacher. She has explored her mixed-race ancestry and given voice to such diverse historical figures as Robert Oppenheimer, Julia Pastrana, and her own relatives of Hopi, Miwok, and European backgrounds. Her life is indeed a beautiful blanket, one that has warmed and supported her readers and students, but one that also challenges us as we seek to weave together the diverse threads of humanity.
kg: When I was preparing for this interview, I looked up some of the other interviews you’ve done and I noticed that there wasn’t one that was very, very recent. So I wondered if, as a way to segue into the interview, you could update us on your life.
wr: Oh, gee. Well, I was teaching at Fresno City College until about five years ago and then had to retire for medical reasons. There really isn’t too much to tell. I’ve been working in my shop up here in Oakhurst, selling science fiction– and fantasy-related collectibles and my line of jewelry, which is called Laughing Lizard. But professionally the last five years have been pretty quiet.
kg: To the readers of this journal, you are best known as a poet, but, of course, you’ve also been an artist, anthropologist, teacher, administrator, and now a store owner. Like a number of Americans, you’ve also connected with a number of ethnic identities. How have you negotiated amongst those identities, especially given the fierce turf wars that sometimes play out within communities?
wr: Well, I guess the best answer I have to that would be that I don’t really try to juggle it too much; lately I just don’t even think about it particularly. It used to be, I guess, part of my writing. As a teacher, I would bring it into the classroom in the sense that, for [End Page 72] example, in the California gold rush, I would talk...