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 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), André Levinson on Dance (1991), and Mission to Siam: The Memoirs of Jessie MacKinnon Hartzell (2001), her grandmother.
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 (2000).
Joan received both critical and mainstream negative feedback for her article in the May 2008 Smithsonian magazine. The magazine had a monthly two page spread where authors write about their hometown, Acocella wrote about New York City, despite being born and raised in California. The article was written in the style of a day in the life of a New Yorker. She described going to the post office and seeing a mail clerk refusing to allow another customer waste a copy of the Village Voice as packing in a box that was being mailed. Acocella then claimed, that numerous people surged forward to offer up a copy of the NY Times. Many online comments of the article wrote, that it was a shameless attempt at getting some freelance work from the Village Voice. Smithsonian also received much feedback on the way Acocella started and finished the article. The first paragraph was "In my experience, many people believe that New Yorkers are smarter than other Americans, and this may actually be true". The final paragraph ended with Acocella arguing that life in New York was like "being a child again and that is why I believe is another reason why New Yorkers seem smarter." In between the less than objective opening paragraph and the 'life in NY is like being a child' ending she filled most of the middle about an elevator ride with Paul McCartney. This article by Acocella, was ridiculed by most, however, Smithsonian Magazine received the most feedback of any article in 2008, the vast majority of online comments poured scorn on the New Yorkers are smarter, especially from a California writer.
Joan also received a much peer criticism over a review of The Language Wars by Henry Hitchings , which she appears not to have remotely understood,she was widely accused of willful misreading of the texts she cites and her snide tone about what she imagines descriptivists to be are representative of the remarks. Highly respected and well known authors such as Jan Freeman, Mark Liberman and Deniz Rudin all weighed in on the review. John McIntyre of the Baltimore Sun even wrote an entire article .. The Guardian Newspaper in London heard about the controversy and had their best reviewer read the book, it received glowing praise 
Awards and honors
- 2017 – Harold D. Vursell Memorial Award, American Academy of Arts and Letters
- 2017 – Fellow, Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers
- 2012 – Holtzbrinck Berlin Prize Fellow, American Academy in Berlin.
- 2009 – Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing, the National Book Critics Circle
- 2007 – Award in Literature, American Academy of Arts and Letters
- 2002–present – Fellow, New York Institute for the Humanities
- 1993–1994 – Fellow, Guggenheim Foundation.
- "Joan Acocella". The New Yorker. Retrieved March 20, 2015.
- "My Kind of Town: New York". Retrieved 2016-07-20.
- "(untitled interview)" (PDF). National Arts Journalism Program. p. 5. Retrieved March 20, 2015.
- Rockwell, John (January 23, 1994). "The Big Hairy Guy of Dance". The New York Times. Retrieved March 20, 2015.
- Harrison, Kathryn (February 18, 2007). "Lives in the Arts". The New York Times. Retrieved March 20, 2015.
- "My Kind of Town: New York". Retrieved 2016-07-20.
- The Language Wars by Henry Hitchings
- "A Bad Week for Joan Acoccela". Retrieved 2016-07-20.
- "2017 Literature Award Winners – American Academy of Arts and Letters". artsandletters.org. Retrieved 2017-06-11.
- "The New York Public Library's Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers Announces 2017–2018 Fellhttps://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/feb/12/language-wars-henry-hitchings-reviewows". The New York Public Library. Retrieved 2017-06-11. External link in
- "Past Fellows – American Academy". American Academy. Retrieved 2017-06-11.
- "Joan Acocella – American Academy". American Academy. Retrieved 2017-06-11.
- "Joan Acocella". New York Institute for the Humanities. Retrieved 2017-06-11.