Wojnarowicz first started writing in a journal on an Outward Bound trip for at-risk teenagers in 1971. The next time he took up a journal was in 1976 on a road trip bound for California. He picked it up again 1977, and kept journals consistently (with some breaks) for the rest of his life. Wojnarowicz used his journals to keep recollections of his travels, the people he met, his own reactions to new experiences, and (increasingly throughout his life) his vivid dreams. He also used these journals to plan out artwork, sometimes through sketching and direct contemplation of new work, sometimes because an old story would make its way into a new image. He would also draft essays in the journals or use passages from the journals in published essays. Wojnarowicz frequently referred back to journals from years prior for inspiration, and openly discussed the journals as part of his writing and artistic process. 
Journal entries from between 1971 and 1991 were gathered by editor Amy Scholder in the 1999 book In the Shadow of the American Dream: The Diaries of David Wojnarowicz (Grove Press). In 2011, a selection were published by the online magazine Triple Canopy ("Years Before the Nation Went Bankrupt") In 2013, Fales Library released digitized versions of all of the journals through their finding aid.
Media and techniques
Wojnarowicz used inexpensive, commercial, readily available notebooks for his journals. Unlike his phone logs, which he kept on scraps of paper, address books, or legal pads, his journals are almost always bound notebooks with lined paper. These are mostly composition books, some spiral notebooks, and one three-ring binder.
Along with his own writing and sketches in ink, Wojnarowicz would paste other items into the journals, including stickers, letters, flyers, clippings from magazines or books, ads, and photocopies of photographs.
Conservation and display
The journals have been included in exhibitions posthumously, including Spirituality at P·P·O·W (2011), where they were displayed on pedestals in plexiglass boxes.
The information contained in the journals could be of use to conservators of Wojnarowicz's work. Wojnarowicz frequently included notes and sketches about works in progress, which contain valuable details about types of materials and sequence of his production.
Selected images from Wojnarowicz Papers, Fales Library
- Cynthia Carr, Fire in the Belly: The Life and Times of David Wojnarowicz (New York, Bloomsbury, 2012): 511.