Joan Acocella

Joan Acocella
Acocella at the National Book Critics Circle award nominations, 2011
OccupationLiterary critic, writer Edit this on Wikidata

Joan Acocella (née Ross, born 1945) is an American journalist who is a staff writer for The New Yorker. She has written books on dance, literature, and psychology.

Education and career

Acocella received her B.A. in English in 1966 from the University of California, Berkeley. She earned a Ph.D. in comparative literature at Rutgers University in 1984 with a thesis on the Ballets Russes.

Acocella has written for The Village Voice, has served as a senior critic and the reviews editor for Dance Magazine, and was the New York dance critic for the Financial Times. Her writing also appears regularly in the New York Review of Books. She began writing for The New Yorker in 1992 and served as its dance critic from 1998 to 2019.

Her books include Creating Hysteria: Women and Multiple Personality Disorder (1999); Mark Morris (1993), a biography of modern dancer and choreographer Mark Morris; and Twenty-Eight Artists and Two Saints (2007), which explores the virtues common among extraordinary artists. She also edited The Diary of Vaslav Nijinsky: Unexpurgated Edition (1999), André Levinson on Dance (1991), and Mission to Siam: The Memoirs of Jessie MacKinnon Hartzell (2001), her grandmother.

Acocella's New Yorker article "Cather and the Academy," which appeared in the November 27, 1995 issue, received a Front Page Award from the Newswomen's Club of New York and was included in the "Best American Essays" anthology of 1996. She expanded the essay into Willa Cather and the Politics of Criticism (2000).

A 2012 review by Acocella of Henry Hitchings's The Language Wars drew criticism from Jan Freeman and Mark Liberman. John McIntyre of The Baltimore Sun wrote about the episode in an opinion column.


  • Acocella, Joan (1999). Creating hysteria : women and multiple personality disorder. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  • — (2000). Willa Cather and the politics of criticism. University of Nebraska Press.
  • Hartzell, Jessie MacKinnon (2001). Mission to Siam : the memoirs of Jessie MacKinnon Hartzell. Edited with a biographical essay by Joan Acocella. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press.
  • Acocella, Joan (2004). Mark Morris. Wesleyan.
  • —, ed. (2006). The diary of Vaslav Nijinsky. University of Illinois Press.
  • — (2007). 28 artists & 2 saints. Pantheon.

Awards and honors

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