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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. She received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1993. Acocella is a 2012 Holtzbrinck Berlin Prize Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin.
Acocella has served as the senior critic and reviews editor for Dance Magazine and 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 was appointed dance critic in 1998.
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), Andre Levinson on Dance (1991), and Mission to Siam: The Memoirs of Jessie MacKinnon Hartzell (2001).
Her 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 (2004).
- Acocella, Joan (2007). 28 Artists & 2 Saints. Pantheon. ISBN 0-375-42416-4.
- Acocella, Joan (2006). The Diary of Vaslav Nijinsky. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 978-0-252-07362-5.
- Acocella, Joan (2004). Mark Morris. Wesleyan. ISBN 0-8195-6731-0.
- Acocella, Joan (2002). Willa Cather and the Politics of Criticism. Vintage. ISBN 0-375-71295-X.
- Acocella, Joan (2001). Mission to Siam: The Memoirs of Jessie Mackinnon Hartzell. Univ of Hawaii Pr. ISBN 0-8248-2395-8.
- Acocella, Joan (1999). Creating Hysteria: Women and Multiple Personality Disorder. Jossey-Bass. ISBN 0-7879-4794-6.
- Acocella, Joan (3 November 2008). "Talk of the Town: Dance Dept.: Newcomer". The New Yorker 84 (35): 48–49. Retrieved 17 April 2009.
- Acocella, Joan (3 November 2008). "Dancing: Pacific Heights". The New Yorker 84 (35): 119–121. Retrieved 17 April 2009. Reviews the San Francisco Ballet performance of "Joyride" by Mark Morris.
- Acocella, Joan (8 December 2008). "Dancing: Memory Tests". The New Yorker 84 (40): 98–99. Retrieved 9 July 2011. Reviews the 2008 Next Wave Festival conducted by the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
- Acocella, Joan (15 March 2010). "Dancing: Platonic". The New Yorker 86 (4): 76–77. Reviews the Mark Morris company performance of "Socrates" by Mark Morris.
- Acocella, Joan (15 October 2012). "Turning the Page - How women became readers". The New Yorker: 88–94. Retrieved 1 February 2013..
- "What Critics Do", Joan Acocella, Dance Ink, 1992
- "In Conversation with Joan Acocella" Interview, Construction Magazine, March 2012
- "You got a problem with that?", Joan Acocella, "You got a problem with that?", 2005