Print / View Finding Aid as Single Page

Fales Library and Special Collections logo

Guide to the Janine Vega Collection of David Wojnarowicz Letters

Fales Library and Special Collections
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
70 Washington Square South
3rd Floor
New York, NY 10012
Phone: (212) 998-2596

Fales Library and Special Collections

Collection processed by Bryan O'Keefe, 2009.

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on July 06, 2017
Description is in English.

Biographical Note

David Michael Wojnarowicz

David Michael Wojnarowicz was an openly gay artist, writer, and activist who chronicled a late-twentieth century New York ravaged by AIDS. His multi-media work is notable for combining elements of personal narrative with erotic, often confrontational imagery.

Wojnarowicz was born on September 14, 1954 in Red Bank, New Jersey. Following his parents' divorce, Wojnarowicz moved with his mother to New York City, where he claims he began hustling at age eleven. He attended the High School of Music and Art in Manhattan for a time, although he never graduated. Wojnarowicz left his mother's apartment at age sixteen to live on the streets, where for two years he was a victim of numerous assaults, before seeking shelter at a halfway house.

In the ensuing years, Wojnarowicz traveled, often by hopping trains and hitchhiking. He lived in San Francisco, as well as in France with his sister, before eventually returning to New York, where he worked as a busboy or janitor to support himself and his art. His activities at this time included performing in a band (Three Teens Kill 4 - No Motive) featuring children's instruments and tape recordings of found sounds, and documenting the Lower West Side’s marginal characters through his film, writing and photography. His well-known series Arthur Rimbaud in New York, featuring images of the artist wearing a photographic mask of the symbolist poet, was created in 1978-79.

In the early 80s Wojnarowicz became known in the East Village art scene for making use of re-contextualized stencils, found maps, and grocery-store price signs to produce stark tableaux. By the mid-80s, after the death of his lover, the photographer Peter Hujar, and his own diagnosis with the disease, AIDS became a constant undercurrent in his work. The artist continued to work with images of decay, disaster and sexuality, adopting a militant stance against what he perceived as the complacency and ignorance surrounding the disease. An iconic image of the Wojnarowicz from this time appears in the film Silence = Death, where he appears with his mouth sewn shut in a reference to the ACT-UP slogan.

At this controversial point in his career he was drafted in the "culture wars": the NEA rescinded and finally restored funding for an exhibition catalog in which he attacked various public figures, and he was criticized by both a member of Congress and the American Family Association. His book Close to the Knives: A Memoir of Disintegration was published in 1991. He continued to produce work until his death in 1992 at age 37.


"David Michael Wojnarowicz."The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives, Volume 3: 1991-1993. Charles Scribner's Sons, 2001. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale, 2009.

"David Wojnarowicz." Contemporary Artists, 5th ed. St. James Press, 2001. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale, 2009.

Kimmelman, Michael. "David Wojnarowicz, 37, Artist in Many Media.(Cultural Desk)(Obituary)." The New York Times (July 24, 1992): NA. New York Times and New York Post (2000-present). Gale. New York Public Library. 22 May 2009.

 Janine Pommy Vega

Janine Pommy Vega is a poet, performance artist, and lecturer. In the early 1960s in Greenwich Village, she met Gregory Corso, Allen Ginsberg and other writers who would later become known as the beat generation. After the death of her husband, the Peruvian painter Fernando Vega, her book Poems to Fernando (1968) was published by City Lights Books. In the 1970s, Pommy Vega traveled to Colombia and Peru on a pilgrimage in search of the female divinity, settling at Lake Titicaca and writing the books  Journal of a Hermit (1974) and  Morning Passage (1976). She has been involved with poetry-in-the-prisons programs and New York Poets in the Schools, and has worked as a story-teller in homes for the aged, reform schools, and for Headstart Projects. She has said about her spiritual beliefs: "All religions pass by many roads to the Same Place; I worship the One."



Poems to Fernando, City Lights (San Francisco, CA), 1968; Kraus Reprint Company (Millwood, NY), 1973.
 Journal of a Hermit, Cherry Valley Editions (Cherry Valley, NY), 1974.
 Morning Passage, Telephone Books (New York), 1976.
Here at the Door, Zone Press (Brooklyn, NY), 1978.
 The Bard Owl, Kulchur Press (New York), 1980.
 Drunk on a Glacier, Talking to Flies, Tooth of Time Books (Santa Fe, NM), 1988.
 Threading the Maze, Cloud Mountain (Old Bridge, NJ), 1992.
 Tracking the Serpent: Journeys to Four Continents, City Lights Books, 1997.
 Mad Dogs of Trieste: New and Selected Poems, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 2000.


Candles Burn in Memory Town: Poems from Both Sides of the Wall, Segue Books (New York), 1989.


Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2009. Reproduced in  Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale, 2009.