1892 - 1982

“The priceless galaxy of misinformation called the mind.”

 – Djuna Barnes

Born in New York, Djuna Barnes was home schooled in an intellectual household. Though she married at 18, she left her husband shortly thereafter. At 20 she attended Pratt Institute but dropped out to pursue a career in journalism. Notable work of this period includes a poetry volume The Book of Repulsive Women (1915) and several one act plays for the Provincetown Players. Barnes’ life changed when ‘McCall’s’ magazine sent her to Paris where she wrote articles for several publications including ‘Vanity Fair’ and ‘The New Yorker.’ While there she also published A Book (1923) – a collection of prose, poetry, and illustrations later revised and reissued as A Night Among the Horses. In 1921 she began a passionate 8 year relationship with sculptress and silverpoint artist Thelma Wood. Barnes became a key figure among the bohemian women of the Left Bank. Her satirical work, Ladies Almanack (1928), documents the circle of women who frequented the salon of Natalie “Cliff” Barney, including Mina Loy, Janet Flanner, Gertrude Stein, and Dolly Wilde. Her first novel, Ryder (1928), was a well-received stream-of-consciousness piece. In 1936 Barnes published her masterpiece, Nightwood. Dealing frankly with lesbianism, the experimental novel explored the lives of several expatriates in Berlin and Paris. Its combination of humor and horror has led to Barnes’ identification as an originator of the literary genre known as the black humor. In 1940, she returned to New York; living reclusively in a small Greenwich Village apartment she all but stopped writing. Additional works from this period include the verse drama The Antiphon (1958) and Selected Works (1962). Djuna Barnes died in 1982, just days after her 90th birthday. Two lesser works Creatures in an Alphabet (1982) and Smoke and Other Early Stories (1982) were published posthumously.


Gender Female

Sexual Orientation Lesbian

Gender Identity Cisgender

Ethnicity Caucasian/White

Nations Affiliated United States France

Era/Epoch First-wave Feminism (1848-1930) Interwar Period (1918-1939) Progressive Era (1890-1920) Roaring Twenties (1920-1929)

Field(s) of Contribution






Commemorations & Honors

National Institute of Arts and Letters Honor Society Member (1961)

National Endowment for the Arts Senior Fellowship Awardee (1981)


Original Biography Author
Owen Keehnen
Biography Edited By
Victor Salvo
Resources Coordination
Carrie Maxwell