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

4.52  ·  Rating details ·  553 ratings  ·  89 reviews
David Wojnarowicz was an abused child, a teen runaway who barely finished high school, but he emerged as one of the most important voices of his generation. He found his tribe in New York's East Village, a neighborhood noted in the 1970s and '80s for drugs, blight, and a burgeoning art scene. His creativity spilled out in paintings, photographs, films, texts, installations ...more
Hardcover, 624 pages
Published July 17th 2012 by Bloomsbury USA (first published March 27th 2012)
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Average rating 4.52  · 
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Sep 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: recs, 2019
Sprawling and sordid, Fire in the Belly chronicles the tumultuous life of writer, artist, and AIDS activist David Wojnarowicz. The work unfolds chronologically in a series of lengthy chapters that reflect on the relationships and experiences that mattered most to Wojnarowicz, from his abusive upbringing in New Jersey to his prolonged fight against conservative politician Jesse Helms over government censorship. The amount of detail about the subject’s life and work is exhaustive, and interspersed ...more
Steve Turtell
Aug 05, 2012 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
Oct 18, 2012 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 23, 2015 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
Feb 19, 2015 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 04, 2013 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
Sep 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I’m sitting at the end of the dock, blinded by the sun’s reflection on the calm water and the tears that have been brimming my eyes for the last half an hour, only several escaping over the edge of my eyes. I had to remove myself from the commotion in our small, crowded cabin to finish the final pages of the book, which each took me three to four times as long to read as a normal page, partly due to not being able to see clearly and partly due to wanting to fully process every single last word C ...more
Feb 11, 2013 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
Sean A.
Beautiful, heartbreaking, and seemingly factually on point. Life was real for queer artists coming up in the 70s and 80s. He really had a good spirit that also frustrated a lot of people. I appreciated the glossy pictures of his paintings and street art as I was more familiar with his writings. David had a wonderful approach to art making, that anyone could do it, but he also worked extremely hard on his techniques and made his way through the New York City art world. It was also interesting to ...more
Mar 27, 2016 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.
Lane Williamson
Apr 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the greatest books I’ve ever read.
Meg Tuite
Dec 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is an historical and extremely intimate, revolutionary, fierce life of one of the most profound voices of his generation: New York, the art scene of the '80s, AIDS, and the right-wing religious crazed fanatics out for genocide. One of the all-time best biographies I've read. Didn't want it to end. Didn't want David or any of these brilliant, beautiful beings to go through hell and the endless torture of existence. Get ready to cry and live through this period. Absolutely unforgettable and m ...more
Feb 19, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: audiobook
A 'warts and all' profile of an artist who led an extremely eventful life from childhood through to his death from AIDS, and whose work influenced some of ACT Up's campaign in the early 1990s. Interesting but very long... ...more
Jun 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow, it took me a year to read this?? But it was great, and the last chapter gutted me. An amazing artist with an amazing life.
Dec 26, 2012 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
Jul 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is a really strong biography of David Wojnarowicz, a fascinating artist who was dealt a shitty hand early in life but was able to persevere and channel a great deal of it into powerful images and beautiful words. It would seem that many have described him or his work as "angry", mostly due to his most-known images and visceral rage during the AIDS crisis, but I think that's far too simple. While it's known that he was kind of prickly, even to those he was closest to, and extremely resistant ...more
Matias Viegener
Aug 27, 2012 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
Sep 16, 2012 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
Nov 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Wow. This is a well-researched book that encompasses not just Wojnarovicz's life and work but the entire East Village art scene and the AIDS crisis that hit NYC in the 80's.

David's view on art is complicated and nuanced. But his view on the inaction of the government and the Catholic church is unapologetic, and that shows in his art.

This book is really a must-read; Carr is able to bring to life the East Village art scene through journals, interviews, and her own personal experience.
Aug 05, 2012 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.

Sep 11, 2012 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. ...more
Kurt Reighley
Oct 01, 2012 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. ...more
Feb 11, 2013 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.
Melina O.
Dec 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The cover and title of this book grabbed my attention even though it seemed quite a mammoth of a book (500+ pages) to read about someone I had no knowledge of prior. However, I don't regret my choice, it was such a compelling read and has left quite an impression on me. The biography is so much more than just a tale of the life of David Wojnarowicz, it is a story of New York in the 80s, early 90s, the rise and fall of the East Village art scene and the saga that was the AIDs crisis.

David Wojnar
Dafydd Gwaredd
Mar 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is an ambitious and phenomenal biography that seems to leave no stones unturned in David Wojnarowicz's life from his childhood until his death from AIDS. It is also a historic lens into the vibrant and tumultuous East Village art scene of the 1980s in which David W. was a key player. How Cynthia Carr managed to research, collect, organize and write such a detailed, factual and inter-woven life story, while at the same time expressing all the unique personalities, emotions and zeitgeist, is ...more
KC Smelser
Oct 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a fascinating biography, not only of the artist, but also of his time and place: America and NYC in the 70s and 80s. I can't say that I am a fan of the East Village scene, but learning more about it certainly can’t hurt anyone interested in American art history, and I have come to appreciate Wojnaroqics'z work so much more.

Cynthia Carr knows how to write informatively, yet with a degree of informality that makes reading her feel like a conversation. This approach was perfect for a rathe
May 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is an excellent, unvarnished biography of a talented artist who could be both very difficult and very loving. It's also an insightful look at the East Village art scene in the 80s--the artists, the galleries, the personalities. I picked up the book for the history aspect and discovered in the process of reading that I actually was more familiar with Mr. Wojnarowicz's work than I'd realized. It's worth finding good reproductions of the work; I read this book on kindle, and the tiny b&w photo ...more
Shannon McClatchey
Feb 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
Reading this biography is like the Titantic, you know how it's going to end and it won't be pretty. Cynthia Carr has done an amazing amount of research on an artist who could have been relegated to being one of those 'East Village artists from the 80s.' Sadly his life and career were cut short by AIDS (like too many others). Wojnarowicz's creativity wasn't limited to painting and I was unaware of all the mediums in which he worked. His diagnosis also took some of his work in a direction it might ...more
Matt Browning
Sep 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2020-reads
A fascinating biography of a fascinating person: turbulent childhood, teenage street hustler, provocative artist, and activist on the front lines of the AIDS crisis in 1980s New York. Meticulously researched (Carr knew and interviewed Wojnarowicz, as well as many of the others who played a role in his life) and, at nearly 600 pages, impressively thorough. David was diagnosed with AIDS in the late 80s and died at age 37 in 1992. In addition to deep diving into his life and work, it’s a heartbreak ...more
DJ Cheek
Jun 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
An astonishingly powerful biography about a transformative figure in art and activism. Cynthia Carr is a brilliant writer, with a keen eye for narrative, detail, and thorough analysis. Her skills as an art writer combine with her personal knowledge of the subject and many of his colleagues and friends to dazzling effect. One of the best biographies I've ever read, about an artist and activist I can't wait to find out more about. Thank you Ms. Carr and thank you Mr. Wojnarowicz. ...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.

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