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Fire in the Belly: The Life and Times of David Wojnarowicz (Lambda Literary Award - Gay Memoir/Biography) [Hardcover]

Cynthia Carr
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

13 Sep 2012 Lambda Literary Award - Gay Memoir/Biography

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, and in his life and its recounting-creating a sort of mythos around himself. His circle of East Village artists moved into the national spotlight just as the AIDS plague began its devastating advance, and as right-wing culture warriors reared their heads. As Wojnarowicz's reputation as an artist grew, so did his reputation as an agitator-because he dealt so openly with his homosexuality, so angrily with his circumstances as a Person With AIDS, and so fiercely with his would-be censors.

Fire in the Belly is the untold story of a polarizing figure at a pivotal moment in American culture-and one of the most highly acclaimed biographies of the year.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 624 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA (13 Sep 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1596915331
  • ISBN-13: 978-1596915336
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 16.3 x 5.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 689,739 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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12 Best Books of 2012 (Newsday)

10 Favorite Books of 2012 (Dwight Garner The New York Times)

Carr's biography is both sympathetic and compendious; it's also a many-angled account of the downtown art world of the 1980s . . . [Carr] has seized upon a vivid and peculiarly American story. (Dwight Garner The New York Times)

Heartbreaking and unflinchingly honest. Carr has managed to create not only an essential biography but required reading for anyone interested in the '80s art world (Christopher Bollen Interview)

A vivid portrait of the artist as a young man . . . It's no surprise that Carr writes perceptively about Wojnarowicz's art and the era's 'culture wars.' But she also is exceptionally good at fleshing out her subject as a person . . . Carr has resurrected him . . . fully and hauntingly. (Tom Beer Newday)

A beautifully written, sympathetic, unsentimental portrait of one of the most lastingly influential late 20th century New York artists. (Chris Kraus Los Angeles Times)

Book Description

The first full biography of legendary East Village artist and gay activist David Wojnarowicz, whose work continues to provoke twenty years after his death.

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4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent 7 Sep 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
An amazingly indept and comprehensive read, excellent.

Even though there was images I felt there was not enough as the author went into very descriptive details about works that were not illustrated, would have been great not having to google everything as you read.

Love it, so well written, felt like I was actually there in some situations!!!

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.4 out of 5 stars  16 reviews
23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the finest artist biographies ever 18 July 2012
By Grady Harp - Published on
Cynthia Carr has accomplished the near impossible: she has captured the essence of the brilliance of genius that was David Wojnarowicz while keeping him in context of the brutally sad life he led. Carr met Wojnarowicz in 1982 in the office of the art magazine Artforum just before Wojnarowicz became a leading figure in the burgeoning East Village 1980s art scene and, soon after, a pioneering AIDS activist. He had been living in New York for at least 15 years, ever since his alcoholic father had moved him and his siblings from their home in suburban New Jersey to their mother's apartment in Manhattan. The parents had divorced years earlier, after a long stretch of domestic violence and abuse that sometimes involved the children. As Carr states `He was not supposed to be there.' A friend, from whom he was hoping to borrow money, had let him in. But he was also out of place in a cultural sense: a young street artist trespassing in the halls of elite culture. `He was a force, she recalls. They became acquaintances.

And it is just kind of relationship that Carr preserves as she takes us on the exceedingly well document biography of this seminal artist who with Keith Haring, Nan Goldin, and Jean-Michel Basquiat, Wojnarowicz helped redefine art for the times. She describes the changes occurring in the New York art scene along with the wild life styles of the times - and the aftermath of living the life of a male prostitute, a junkie, homeless, a man of the filth of the streets. His art performances and exhibitions are legendary and Carr paints them well. As uptown art collectors looked downtown for the next big thing, this community of cultural outsiders was suddenly thrust into the national spotlight. The ensuing culture war, the neighborhood's gentrification, and the AIDS crisis then devastated the East Village scene. Wojnarowicz died of AIDS in 1992 at the age of thirty-seven. Carr's brilliant biography traces the untold story of a controversial and seminal figure at a pivotal moment in American culture.

This book not only is as comprehensive an academic document as the finest in literature, it also captures that strange period in time and art that forever changed the world. To quote from the book PR, `Despite her friendship with Wojnarowicz in the last months of his life, Carr is willing to paint the artist in clear-eyed prose, balancing unflattering stories of drug use and success-induced paranoia with those of his trenchant and harrowing AIDS activism and defense of freedom of expression. (The intricate details of his battle with right-wing critics will, one hopes, provide fodder for today's protestors.) When Artforum finally devoted an issue to the East Village scene in 1999, Wojnarowicz was on the cover, Carr notes. But the artist's story is ultimately about more than triumphs: It asks what makes an artist create. How does one overcome massive personal pain and make art? Early in the book, Carr speaks with one of Wojnarowicz's first roommates and confidants in the city. "My big question was, do we have to destroy ourselves to be creative," the woman tells the author. "I felt like he was kind of hell-bent on it. He wanted that. He wanted the dark part." Grady Harp, July 12
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Breathing Under Water 2 Aug 2012
By Michael Salcman - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Fire in the Belly, the first biography of David Wojnarowicz, is perhaps the saddest and most devestating book you will read this year. It contains graphic descriptions of the child abuse Wojnarowicz suffered in a completely dysfunctional family circle, his life on the streets as a hustler and male prostitute, his combustible personality and addictions to cocaine and heroin, his poverty and hand-to-mouth existence. The book situates him in the context of the emerging East Village art scene, the arrival of the AIDS epidemic, the widespread loss of major cultural figures and the important legal battles Wojnarowicz fought on behalf of the First Amendment and the gay community. Somehow, out of all this turmoil, the visceral energy of Wojnarowicz's paintings, photographs, performance art, books and films, emerges with the power of revelation. Wojnarowicz was essentially self-taught but he had the support of a major artistic presence, photographer Peter Hujar, who served as mentor and muse, friend, critic and (briefly) lover. The sections on Hujar are so evocative that the book almost becomes a dual biography. Since Wojnarowicz's death in 1992, his reputation as the central figure in the East Village scene has soared and critical reception of his art has evolved; he is now the beneficiary of what is sure to remain the pioneering and standard biography of a truly significant artist.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a crystal clear portrait of a complex period in New York 17 April 2013
By Theodore C. Bale - Published on
I've been glued to this book since the first chapter and now, in the midst of its final pages, I know I'll miss Carr's insightful, scholarly and compassionate study when I'm finished. It is really a vast study of an extraordinarily complex movement in late 20th century art, including everything you wanted to know about the galleries in the East Village then (I was a young art enthusiast and music/performance fan at the time, and now, years later, I have a more complete understanding of the whole scene thanks to Carr). The book is an honest and detailed biography. Especially important is the thorough investigation of Wojnarowicz's long relationship with photographer Peter Hujar. Carr understands and loves her subject, but she maintains the skeptic tone of a honest researcher and archivist throughout. This book is a precious companion to Wojnarowicz's own writings. Other significant books you might want to investigate while reading this are Peter Hujar's Portraits in Life and Death and Samuel Delany's Times Square Read Times Square Blue, among many. And if you want to explore the many layers of a video like Fire in My Belly, this is where to go. Carr is not only an excellent biographer but a wonderful arts critic as well. Highly recommended.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good insight 6 Jan 2013
By Fred Ross - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
An important figure not on the mainstream radar. Cynthia Carr makers David Wojnarowicz accessible - understanding is always left to interpretation.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Haunting Art/ Great Biography 12 Dec 2012
By Szerb I'm Tall - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I read this book on my Kindle about half a year ago, and it has stuck with me since. The biographer does a fantastic job making Wojnarowicz a compelling subject and also makes a strong case for him as an important figure in American culture. Especially interesting is the comprehensive detailing of the rise and fall of the East Village art scene against the backdrop of AIDS. She manages to intertwine the personal with the historical in a seamless narrative of somebody who is both heroic and tragic. This book is well worth your attention. I look forward to re-reading it.
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