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Fire in the Belly: The Life and Times of David Wojnarowicz

4.50  ·  Rating Details  ·  276 Ratings  ·  58 Reviews
In December 2010, the National Portrait Gallery in Washington made headlines when it responded to protests from the Catholic League by voluntarily censoring an excerpt of David Wojnarowicz's A Fire in My Belly from its show on American portraiture.

Why a work of art could stir such emotions is at the heart of Cynthia Carr's Fire in the Belly, the first biography of a beleag
Hardcover, 624 pages
Published July 17th 2012 by Bloomsbury USA (first published March 27th 2012)
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Fire in the Belly by Cynthia CarrGeorgia O'Keeffe's Hawai'i by Patricia JenningsThe Judgment of Paris by Ross KingThe Success and Failure of Picasso by John BergerConfesiones inconfesables by Salvador Dalí
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1st out of 16 books — 18 voters
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Community Reviews

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Steve Turtell
Aug 17, 2012 Steve Turtell rated it it was amazing
I wept as I read the last pages of this astonishing book. It brought the most painful years of my life back so forcefully, so vividly. Anyone who was in New York in the 80s and early 90s will recognize just how accurately Cynthia Carr has evoked that time and place. And what can you say about David Wojnarowicz that hasn't been said before. He was a force, a comet, a genius--it's miraculous that the abused, abandoned, beaten, neglected boy who barely finished high school became the most important ...more
Mar 04, 2015 Bythedeed rated it really liked it
I’ve been reading this book on and off for the last two months, and, in a lot of ways, have been dreading writing a review: so much will be lost in trying to recount my thoughts from this massive work. Reading this has been – as I’m sure it has been for a lot of people – incredibly emotional and draining. I’ve had to stop a few times and come back to it because of that. During all of this I watched these movies, which didn’t help with the intensity of it all: Silence=Death (which prominently fea ...more
Jan 06, 2013 Sandy rated it really liked it
Shelves: finished-2013
The highpoints in this book are incredibly high. Two chapters which focus on Wojnarowicz's great friend and mentor Peter Hujar amount to a fantastic short biography of the latter (like Wojanrowicz, part of a class of 20th century artists I can't resist - volatile, hostile, self-destructively anti-careerist queer geniuses). And the final chapter, which deals with the point where Carr became friends with Wojnarowicz just as he began to slip into dementia and then passed away, is just heartbreaking ...more
Feb 19, 2015 Alvin rated it really liked it
A fascinating bio of a man who, in his day, exemplified a social type now gone extinct: the angry AIDS activist. LIke the best bios, FITB not only tells the story of its subject, but the times he lived through. The evocation of the early '80s East Village art explosion is particularly well rendered. DW's story is, of course, mostly a sad one - childhood abuse, runaway teenage street hustling, early and utterly miserable death from AIDS - but his all-too-brief career as an art star and a few roma ...more
Jan 21, 2016 Macartney rated it it was amazing
Shelves: gay-lit, new, best-of-2012
A beautiful and devastating love letter both to late artist David Wojnarowicz and to his surviving partner Tom Rauffenbart, this was quite possibly the most heartfelt and raw biography I've ever read. Cynthia Carr, an arts reporter who began observing Wojnarowicz's career from afar but would later become an integral part of his life toward the end, creates a portrait of Wojnarowicz that is intimate and gentle yet also honest and heartbreaking. You'll read about his rage during well-known battles ...more
Jan 17, 2014 Mike rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I started reading Fire in the Belly last January, but read the latter half of the book over the first week of 2014. A year ago I wasn't very familiar with David's writing or visual art. For instance, I wasn't aware of the litigation he went though later in his career for the sexual and the political content in his work. During his lawsuit against the American Family Association, David defended his use of sexual images by stating that "If my work is going to reflect my life, then I'm going to put ...more
Aug 25, 2012 *heartrl* rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
A gorgeous, unflinching and honest biography. What is happening around us is so integral to our lives and Carr manages to weave the world of New York in the 70's and 80's, the sexual exploration of coming out, the tragedy and anger of AIDS and spirit of the art scene into David Wojnarowicz life. He was a complex often terrible person and yet those around him were able to find his beauty and importance. I hope that we will all be able to be so kind to each other! I loved this book so much and am ...more
Aug 05, 2012 John rated it it was amazing
I feel so thankful to C. Carr for this book...for conjuring this intimate experience of David, a natural born artist, the exuberant art scene he emerged from and more than transcended, and the plague that devastated those times, and him. I hope this book receives the recognition and praise it deserves.

May 30, 2016 Kirsten rated it really liked it
Biographies are often great, not only because you learn about the person but you learn about the world in which he or she existed, in this case the art world of the East Village in the 70s and 80s. Carr does a great job telling a difficult story about a difficult person who led a difficult life.
Oct 03, 2012 Judy rated it it was amazing
I can't recommend this book highly enough. It's impeccably researched, beautifully written, and utterly fascinating . . . along with completely heartbreaking. It's kind of easy these days to forget about the AIDS death toll of the 80s and early 90s. Each death, set apart in a one-line sentence, is like a knife to the heart. So many beautiful, vibrant people died while the government did nothing and society actively shunned the ill.

Wojnarowicz was an incredible writer and artist, but Carr goes d
Matias Viegener
Sep 01, 2012 Matias Viegener rated it it was amazing
Cindy Carr has written the essential book on David Wojnarowicz, neither academic study nor pop biography. Wojnarowicz has always been a sort of cultural lightning rod. He's a classic outsider, a high school dropout from a broken family, leaving home at 16 and living on the streets of New York, and like many outsiders he had a complex relation with the art world, where in some sense he became a true insider, an artist's artist. Carr knew him for the last decade of his life, and her familiarity wi ...more
Dec 13, 2014 Gabriella rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: queer-lit, biography
I'm so glad to have stumbled on this in-depth biography of David Wojnarowicz (1954-1992), whom I was aware of as an AIDS casualty and a wonderful writer (Close to the Knives) and an angry, out gay man, but not so much as a visual artist, since I was in my early twenties when Wojnarowicz died.

Cynthia Carr's bio goes deep into the heart of David's harrowing childhood. I found details I did not know because David never talked about them, for example the fact that his abusive father, Ed, committed s
Richard Jespers
Nov 03, 2014 Richard Jespers rated it it was amazing
David Wojnarowiz (voyna-ROW-vich) was born in 1954. His father beat him, and he was sexually abused by older boys. He barely finished high school and did not attend college, yet in the 1980s he became, for a short time, an art sensation in New York. He didn’t care about success, often living hand to mouth, and refused to take the next step that would ensure stability. That would have been selling out.

“David’s work was full of sex and violence—politics expressed at the level of the body. He paint
Aug 23, 2015 Meave rated it really liked it
(Lesson learned: This is not a beach read.)

But it is very, very good. I wasn't really interested in the East Village art scene, or art much at all, really, but I went to a not very good lecture on his death portraits of Peter Hujar, which made me curious about someone who would take such pictures, so I picked up the book. It's pretty incredible; Cynthia Carr talked to everyone around him she could (quite a few of his contemporaries/colleagues/friends are dead), and got access to apparently all h
Alfredo Ruiz
Mar 08, 2014 Alfredo Ruiz rated it really liked it
If you want to be a Wojnarowicz scholar, this is the book to first pick up. Cynthia Carr gives you everything you need to know about David Wojnarowicz. Well everything that couldn't be extracted from this complex artist's mind, meaning there is still so much we will never find out. Aside from giving the reader a closely detailed account of his life, Carr also elaborates on the Village art scene in the 80s and 90s AIDS epidemic, setting David's work and life in full context. Carr does an amazing ...more
Jul 02, 2013 Eric rated it it was amazing
The 20,000 character limit is not enough for me to say how much I got out of this book historically, personally, emotionally.
Kurt Reighley
Oct 01, 2012 Kurt Reighley rated it it was amazing
Forgotten how harrowing the early years of the AIDS crisis and the culture wars were? Here's a thrilling reminder.
Sep 11, 2012 doug rated it really liked it
Very enjoyable. Good bio for anyone interested in late 70's/early 80's NYC no-wave avant garde art and music.
Oct 29, 2014 Jim rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography
I enjoyed learning about this artist I had heard of, of course, but did not know much about except that he was an AIDS activist in addition to being an artist. This book is so much more than just a biography - it also details the history of the early 80s East Village art movement, as David Wojnarowicz's own history is intimately wrapped up there. So it gives you that picture - this is the world the musical "Rent" is the extremely sanitized (and straight) version of. I think the history is intere ...more
Mar 15, 2015 Emmkay rated it it was amazing
Huge, detailed, nuanced, and very moving biography of a complex man. Wojnarowicz created something of a mythology out of his awful childhood, which included terrible abuse and teen sex work in Times Square, but Carr deftly explore the ramifications it had on every aspect of his life. The section on Wojnarowicz's young adulthood dragged a bit, as he had not yet found his centre as a visual artist - young adult drift isn't that fascinating. But as I went on I began to see why it was a necessary pi ...more
Caryn Rose
Jul 17, 2013 Caryn Rose rated it it was amazing
This was an astounding work on an astounding life and talent. So much detail, elaborate research and retelling, painstaking work to construct a life in words. You will feel angry and astonished and exhilarated, you will feel completely inadequate creatively. It is a fantastic history of an artist and of a time and of a subculture, it is a snapshot into a New York City that no longer exists. It is a story of AIDS and AIDS activism and a country that turned its back on a group of people, and could ...more
Sep 02, 2012 Roberta rated it really liked it
By turns delightful, annoying and sad, Cynthia Carr's book mirrors the tetchy personality and exhilarating times of its subject, David Wojnarowicz. The artist was a tortured soul -- a gifted and amazing wordsmith and artist and zealous AIDS activist. Carr, a writer for the Village Voice who covered the experimental art of the East Village in the 70s and 80s, knew Wojnarowicz and was close to him at the end of his life (he died of AIDS in 1993 at age 37).

Her book is an unabashedly sympathetic po
David DeBacco
Dec 20, 2012 David DeBacco rated it it was amazing
This read was a very powerful, personal journey for me because of the time period NYC-80’s- early 90’s. It is when I first moved to NYC as a snappy young gay man. I remember artist David W- attending his gallery shows, his books, writings... seeing him on the street creating art, borscht at the Russian diner on 2nd Ave. The book is beautifully written in a journalistic way, yet the author pulls from her own memory and relationship with David W. It captures a period in history when AIDS invad
Dec 27, 2012 Caitlin rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2012
David Wojnarowicz has been one of my favorite artists since I first discovered him in the early 1980's. He is remembered most for his controversial works and the conservative backlash against them. He was a gay man and much of his subject matter considered his sexuality and the AIDS crisis. He was a street kid for a period of time and wrote a comic about that time period that I adore, 7 Miles a Second (I just saw that it's being re-released by Fantagraphics this February). His work is deeply per ...more
Fasterpussycat Moore
Jun 22, 2015 Fasterpussycat Moore rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This astounding biography is written with a sharp intelligence and a great deal of care. The biographer's respect for her subject and his work is evident, and because she lived too during the times and in the places covered in the book, Carr is able to lend a certain authenticity and sometimes a bird's eye view.

Wojnarowicz's life and work is put into context among his many artist peers - Peter Hujar, Keith Haring, Nan Goldin among them - and the author paints a vivid picture of NYC during the 1
Leah Sosewitz
Jan 14, 2015 Leah Sosewitz rated it it was amazing
A moving biography which encompasses the AIDS crisis as well as the birth of an art movement in NYC that influenced and was influenced by the tragic events of those years. David Wojnarowicz 's personal journey as a developing artist and activist against the backdrop of the crisis that ultimately killed him made me appreciate his and his peer's contributions all the more.
May 12, 2014 Dkolacinski rated it it was amazing
The Life and Times of David Wojarowicz. Never heard of him? Nor did I, yet the more I read, the more I saw the life and times of many friends now long gone. Art, AIDS, confusion, pathos, bathos. It's all here. Not what you would call a "nice" person. We've all had friends or knew people like Wojarowicz. Ours was Edward. A child of his times, a victim of the age.
Aug 11, 2014 AVN rated it it was amazing
This book supported my habit of crying while reading on public transportation. A beautiful telling of a complicated man's life. Carr knew David during much of his time in the east village as an acquaintance and then as a much closer friend right before his death. After building a layered profile of a man who struggled with anger and the ability to show his truth, it is Carr's unique perspective as someone who knew David at the end of his life that makes the last quarter of the book so poignant a ...more
Jun 23, 2013 blake rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Cynthia Carr's detail of the East Village art scene in the 80's is impressive. This book is soaked in social, contract, gallery and art making events, partly experience by Carr herself and partly through the help of others who were in the scene and are still living.

At times the detail of art making and negotiations stacked so consistently on one another got hard to keep track of. And some of the nihilism of the lives told is boring but that's more of a critique of the scene than of Carr.

I didn'
Robin J
Dec 09, 2013 Robin J rated it it was amazing
Cynthia Carr not only tells the story of David Wojnarowicz--abused child, teen runaway, hustler, writer and successful artist--but also the rise of the transgressive artists of New York's East Village in the 1980s. Carr also examines how Wojnarowicz and his talented colleagues turn their fierce intelligence to politics as AIDs begins to devastate their community. Carr investigates the poetry and purposeful crudity of Wojnarowicz's paintings with the insight of a knowledgable art historian while ...more
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“As they walked out onto Second Avenue, with David in a body bag, there was one last surreal moment. The singer and composer Diamanda Galás happened to be walking by. She and David had never met, but they'd spoken once on the phone. She shared his commitment to addressing AIDS, in her case through 'The Plague Mass,' which showcased her five-octave range and fierce persona.
Galás does not remember being on Second Avenue that night, but she made an indelible impression on Zimmerman and Glantzman.

She had walked by, but as they were putting David into the hearse, she spun around and ran back, yelling, 'Who is that? Is that David Wojnarowicz?' Zimmerman and Brown didn't answer. What Glantzman remembers is that Diamanda Galás was there at the door, screaming. 'As if our feelings were amplified,' said Glantzman. 'Hysterical screaming.

“I ended up going into this big art historical argument.' [Barry Blinderman] invoked, for example, Matthias Grünewald’s Isenheim altarpiece, painted in the sixteenth century for a monastery where monks cared for people with skin diseases—so the suffering Christ in that painting shows symptoms of skin disease. 'It’s because he’s the man of sorrows,' Blinderman argued. 'He takes on the suffering of the world. So if Christ were to appear physically today, one of the sicknesses he would have to take on would be drug addiction.” 1 likes
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