Performance--Lectures and Readings

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Wojnarowicz was a writer and poet. Although he believed language to be limiting - part of the "pre-invented world" of ideas he tried to resist through his work - his monologues had a raw, fiery power, and he used the written word in many of his paintings, films, and installations. Throughout his career, he gave lectures and read at a range of locations, including art institutions, activist gatherings, and other venues. His first reading was a poetry reading at Morning Star Arts in Union City, NJ in 1975. Though he later erased this period from his autobiographical accounts[1], in the late 1970s he was deeply involved with a small group of mostly New York-based poets including John Ensslin, Dennis DeForge, Michael Morais, and Brian Butterick. Through this network, Wojnarowicz read his poems and letters at small poetry readings around New York City, and planned poetry journals and salons throughout the late 1970s.[2]

Later, when he became involved in AIDS activism, his readings were explicitly political. In one example, in 1989, following controversy over NEA funding for a show he was participating in, Wojnarowicz read searing essays exploring his personal and political rage over the AIDS crisis at Artists Space, while wearing a Reagan mask. He also appeared on a local television show to answer questions about the NEA controversy, again wearing the Reagan mask. Later that year he read unmasked at MoMA. For his Tongues of Flame exhibition at Illinois State University, when invited to do a reading for an AIDS benefit, Wojnarowicz read from Close to the Knives, and asked Patrick McDonnell, a young graduate student, to perform costumed as an abstract cartoon character, painting live on newsprint walls, banging drums, and smashing glass.


  1. Cynthia Carr, Fire in the Belly: The Life and Times of David Wojnarowicz (New York, Bloomsbury, 2012): 67.
  2. Carr, 56.