In the Shadow of the American Dream:
The Diaries of David Wojnarowicz

Amy Scholder


At the time of his death in 1992, David Wojnarowicz was one of the most vital and important names in the New York arts scene. His openness about his HIV status and engagement in public debates about health care and AIDS policy placed his highly political and determinedly provocative art and writing in a new context. In the Shadow of the American Dream is a collection of journal entries from 1971 (when he was 17) to his death. As he alternates between living on New York's Lower East Side and hitch-hiking around the country, we can see the evolution of the artist not only as a young man beginning to understand his life and the world but as a social and political critic.

Wojnarowicz's life was difficult--from his unhappy childhood and adolescence to periods of homelessness and ostracism, coupled with overwhelming despair and loneliness. Yet, ultimately, In the Shadow of the American Dream is a joyful book. We see how Wojnarowicz's art became his salvation--even in the face of AIDS--and his life finally opened and expanded to be able to include other people in ways that never happened before, including a close friendship with photographer Peter Hujar. Wojnarowicz also presents us with insightful commentary on the New York arts scene and the enormous effect AIDS had on gay male life and culture. While In the Shadow of the American Dream is a moving, sometimes frightening self-examination of the life of a gay artist, it is also testimony to how mainstream America treats not only its artists but its radicals and visionaries.

--Michael Bronski


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