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Meet Crisosto Apache

Today we’d like to introduce you to Crisosto Apache.

Hi Crisosto, thanks for joining us today. We’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
I was born and raised on the Mescalero Apache Reservation in New Mexico. My Native American identity is comprised of three ethnicities. Mescalero Apache, Chiricahua Apache, a from my mother’s side, and Diné (Navaho). My Diné Clan comes from my father’s side, which is Salt Clan (‘Áshįįhí dine’é) born for Towering House Clan (Kinyaa’áanii dine’é). By acknowledging my ancestry it is how I am defined as human.

To start, each of my tribal identities has separate cultural belief systems and language dialects. Though these two groups have separate tribal affiliations, they, however, belong to an anthropological classification of people call Athabaskan. This classification of people shares similar traits in cultural beliefs, and dialect of the language. These three classifications of people, at one point, did not live where they currently inhabit, but over time and through historical encounters with Western civilization, were forces to live together on reservations. Relocation is how many of these racial ethnicities exist today.

My reservation consists of about six thousand enrolled members and is comprised of three bands of Apache people: The Mescalero Apache Band, the Chiricahua Apache Band, and the Lipan Apache Band. In other parts of the southwest region of the United States, there are many other bands of Apache. Many reside in Arizona and are known as the Western Apache, which is made up of other groups of Apache Bands, (i.e. White Mountain Apache, San Carlos Apache, and other smaller bands).

The Diné people (Navajos) were placed on the largest reservation in the United States (in the four-corners area, Utah, Arizona New Mexico, Colorado), because of their extensive familial and cultural ties and clanships. Possessing knowledge of one’s origin is the responsibility of the individual and family of the individual. Which is why it’s important to announce all aspect of my racial ethnicity and to demonstrate a recognition of where I originate from. Fresh out of high school, my college education started as an artist, a painter. During my adolescent years, I did a lot of illustration in my spare time, as well as read a lot of poetry, focusing on the classics. My illustrations mostly focused on fantasy as well as Native American motifs and designs. My illustration allowed me a full-time scholarship to the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico in the fall of 1989.

I studied two-dimensional design my first two semesters when I was approached by Arthur Sze, the head of the Creative Writing department at the time. Sze convinced me to change my major to Creative Writing which was my introduction to taking my writing seriously. I will consider myself a lifetime student of Arthur Sze because of the influence taught through writing and literature courses. My second manuscript titled “Ghostword” is highly influenced by a modern Japanese writer is Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, and his final book “A Fool’s Life” (Eridanos Press), introduced to me by Arthur. For many years, I carried a carbon copy of the book until I finally found the book in a reprinted collection, then out of print. So, my second manuscript “Ghostword” is a kind of conversation or life response to Akutagawa’s work.

The manuscript has been submitted to many publishers and I am waiting to hear of its acceptance for publication. My current book GENESIS was published by a small indie publisher Lost Alphabet in 2018, which was highly experimental. The poetic work was developed during my graduate program and became my thesis for graduation. The publishing world is highly competitive and at times can be very discouraging. Each of my two works listed here has been submitted in their various versions over the years. I currently have another working manuscript called, “Isness.” The theme for isness focuses on conceptual poems which deal with the everyday mundane life as language and imagery, to the influences of dream imagery defining the idea of “being” or “just existing” as poems.

My belief is each poem that comes to me has a life, and I must help them find places to exist outside of myself. It is a gratifying feeling when I find homes for the poems and writing because it adds to my peace of mind and soul. Colorado has been a part of my life for about 23 years. Colorado is such a beautiful place and knew this is where I would live and “settle down.” Growing up in the mountains has never left my spirit, even though I miss my family back in Mescalero. When I start feeling like I am missing my family, I usually take a drive through the mountains with my spouse and that makes me feel a little better. I met my spouse Todd back in the 2000s.

At the time, he owned one of the oldest gay bars in Denver called The Den. I did not know much about the History of Denver at the time, especially Denver’s gay history. There is still so much to learn. I am also interested in finding out the connection to the Native American history of Denver because I know there is a huge connection because of Sand Creek, a Nation memorial site out on the eastern plain of Colorado. The site is a memorial dedicated to the massacre of the Cheyanne and Arapahoe people. Some of the historical knowledge I have acquired is passed on to my students because many of them have never heard of a Native American perspective to America’s history.

Many of my students do appreciate the discussions and perspectives of that history. I am very fortunate for what I have accomplished in my life, and I certainly do not take any of my experiences for granted. If there is an opportunity to participate in larger conversations about my Native American experience I certainly will jump at the opportunity.

My writing has offered many opportunities to have conversations about my experiences. My path has been long, but I certainly am satisfied where I stand and look forward to what still may.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way? Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
The most challenging part of my writing process is finding time to focus on the writing and my intensive revision process and publication of my work. Because my time is mostly dedicated to my teaching job as an English professor (and all the facets of faculty responsibilities), and my volunteered position as the Associate Editor of Poetry for The Offing online magazine, it sometimes can be challenging to find and dedicated time to focus on my writing.

In my house, I have a small office and a small library of influential books as well as my computer. Sometimes have closed the door and try to focus on my writing. Working from home was difficult during the pandemic. When the door was closed when not in my office meant I was not at work. During the pandemic my classroom was inside my office, so, I had to separate the room as not part of the house and keep my working life separate from my home life. I want to return to a space where I am in my office and focus on the headspace of my creative work. I do take my time seriously when I am in my office and focusing on my creative written work.

I have many writing projects lined up and categorized files allocated to those projects. It is a good thing for me to have work lined up. I would be worried if I did not. Writing helps calm my mind and my spirit. I need to have this space to feel fine with myself. This space brings me peace.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
Though most of my writing falls under the poetry genre, more specifically the Native American Literary genre, I am trying to develop my narrative elements by writing a memoir. The emphasis for the memoir is my experience growing up on my Mescalero Apache reservation in New Mexico as a gay male, as well as my experience off the reservation in urban areas as a marginalized Native American. My identity as an artist is what fuels my creative aspiration for writing.

Most of my creative bursts come during the night. I am sometimes wakened by jolting moments to write. When this occurs, I do get up and go directly to my computer and begin typing. It is during these moments many of the fundamental ideas come through for my poetry. The writing is almost automatic, and it feels closer to being on “automatic pilot.” Many of the poems in my book GENESIS have come from these waking moments. Some of the approaches for my writing focus on the juxtaposition of my indigenous language and the English language. Through translation, I found this technique interesting how the language interacts as meaning and description.

It is fascinating to me to examine the interaction of language and the mapped direction the language interaction takes me, which resembles the action of “unfolding” or “uncovering.” I always look forward to the reading of other writers’ work because I do draw influence and encouragement from what is written. I often think and wonder if the “jolting wake” in the night comes from the influence of reading where my mind finally assembles ideas for my writing.

Alright, so to wrap up, is there anything else you’d like to share with us?
I am open to participating as a presenter in writing collaborations, reading events, workshop opportunities, and other interviews. Participating in these various opportunities helps me develop my aesthetic in helping others refine their writing. Writing is such an invaluable tool that helps people grow and writing also helps people tell their stories, which is very important.

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Todd Andreff

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