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10 Questions for Rose B. Simpson

I studied flamenco for a few years when I was an undergraduate. I had signed up, hoping for an easy credit. On the first day, the teacher showed a class of sixty what kind of shoes we needed; the ones with the nails hammered into a small dome on the two-inch heel and shiny black toe. a skirt made with miles of pleated stretchy black fabric to wrap tight around our hips as we brandished them across the floor.
—from "Mata la Araña," Volume 61, Issue 4 (Winter 2020)

Tell us about one of the first pieces you wrote.
I started undergrad at the University of New Mexico in 2001. One of the first stories I wrote to be workshopped was called “Ladybug,” and it was about a jungle love affair between two women in active duty. In reality, I was living in a small apartment full of cockroaches with a very abusive partner, so the story was an attempt to get out of my situation by forcing suggestive material on a beautiful classmate. One of my professors submitted it to a competition and I got a check in the mail. That was the beginning and end of fiction for me.

What writers or works have influenced the way you write now?
I try not to read and think “wow I should do that,” I read and think “wow that’s what they did” and I might hope that some of those cool techniques show up while I’m doing my own intuitive thing. I loved Claudia Rankine’s “Citizen,” and for some of the same reasons, Elissa Washuta’s “My Body is a Book of Rules.” Hyper aware non-fiction does it for me.

What other professions have you worked in?
I’m a full-time artist. I mould, sew, file, ponder, saw, epoxy, email, fire, draw, spray, grind, spark, glaze, tape, sketch, ratchet, and cuss through my days. I worked construction through high school, then worked at Blockbuster in Albuquerque and got fired for not making it in to work because my car broke down. My dorm-room was across the street, and my boss knew it, but I was broke down way out on the Rez. So after that I had to take a summer job digging a six foot deep pond in someone’s backyard for five bucks an hour. I enjoy teaching, but I like being a visiting artist better. I like giving seven hundred percent all at once, then sleeping for a week.

What did you want to be when you were young?
I wanted to fly fighter jets. When I was a kid I customized model planes and hung them from my ceiling. My bedroom was upstairs, my mom’s roof was steep. We didn’t have electricity so sometimes I’d forget where they were and in the candlelight their sharp noses and wingtips would peck at my ears and get caught in my hair. I took the ASVAB in high school, and when the Air Force called, my mom hung up on them. No fighter jets for me.

What inspired you to write this piece?
How can we, as Indigenous people, illuminate our horrific histories without triangulation? Sometimes asking for accountability can look like an attack, and sometimes it is. How do we stay grounded in our humanity so that everyone has the courage to stand in the uncomfortable?

Is there a city or place, real or imagined, that influences your writing?
As an Indigenous person living in my ancestral home of Khaap’o Owingeh in Northern New Mexico, I deeply feel how capitalism and white supremacy continue to violently colonize the landscape, culture, and life-ways of this ancient family we call ecosystem.

Who typically gets the first read of your work?
I usually send my work first to Mama. Since I write non-fiction, it is an important tool to communicate. Sometimes it is easier for me to ask her to read my work, than to talk to her about how I feel. I don’t write it for her to read, so it feels like an un-manipulated form of expression. I then send work to my friend Tony for his editing eyes. Watching him edit is magical to me.

If you could work in any other art form what would it be?
I already build custom cars, do large scale ceramic sculpture, weld steel, sing, spray paint, and do performance art, so perhaps all that’s missing would be—to better build the muscle of meditation, to master the art of relationship, and of course to play a bass guitar and lay it down with some nasty beats on a super looper from the cockpit of my custom helicopter.

What are you working on currently?
I am building “Countdown,” four 8’ tall ceramic figures for an installation at Savannah College of Art and Design’s Museum. They have points for feet, and will be leaning against exterior glass with their foreheads. The work is about tension, strength, and patience, and I can feel all those energies working their way through my body. It relates deeply to my ever present work as a mother raising an Indigenous daughter to thrive on our land in the ashes of the settler state.

What are you reading right now?
I have been working long hours, and am a single mother with a kid home from a COVID closed school, so I don’t have much time to read. Lately, if I have a moment, I dig into a few pages of Ceanne DeRohan’s Right Use of Will, the Blue Book. Every section provides so much to reflect on, it is a heavy and slow read that provides so much material for evolution of consciousness.

ROSE B. SIMPSON is a mixed-media artist from Santa Clara Pueblo, NM. Her work engages ceramic sculpture, metals, fashion, performance, music, installation, writing, and custom cars. She received an MFA in ceramics from Rhode Island School of Design in 2011, an MFA in creative nonfiction from the Institute of American Indian Arts in 2018, is collected in museums across the continent, and has exhibited internationally. She lives and works from her home at Santa Clara Pueblo and hopes to teach her young daughter how to creatively engage the world.

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