Noted journalist and avant-garde author Djuna Barnes was born in Cornwall-on-Hudson, New York, on June 12, 1892, the second child and only daughter of Wald and Elizabeth Chappell Barnes. Barnes studied art at the Pratt Institute (1912-1913) and at the Art Student's League of New York (1915-1916).
In 1913, she began working as a freelance journalist and illustrator for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle and was soon writing and illustrating features and interviews for the New York Morning Telegraph, the New York Press, and the New York Sun, among other publications. During this period, she became involved in the bohemian artistic milieu of Greenwich Village. She wrote poetry (The Book of Repulsive Women, published in 1915) and several short plays ("Three From the Earth,"? "Kurzy of the Sea," and "An Irish Triangle"), which were produced by the Provincetown Players in 1919 and 1920.
In 1921, Barnes travelled to Europe, then spent almost all of the next twenty years in England and France. She wrote features and interviews for Vanity Fair, McCall's, Charm, and Smart Set, a regular column for Theatre Guild Magazine, and poems and stories for literary magazines such as Dial, transition, and Transatlantic Review. Her book-length writings in this period consist of a collection of her short stories, plays, and poems, A Book (1923), which was revised and republished in 1929 as A Night Among the Horses, the satirical Ladies Almanack (1928), and two novels, Ryder (1928) and Nightwood (1936). Regarded by most critics as her masterpiece, Nightwood was influenced by Barnes's affair with Thelma Wood. The novel was written under the patronage of Peggy Guggenheim and championed by T. S. Eliot, Barnes's editor at Faber and Faber.
In October 1939, Barnes returned to the United States, and, in September 1940, she moved into an apartment at 5 Patchin Place in Greenwich Village, where she resided for the remainder of her life. She wrote the verse play The Antiphon (1958), which was produced in Sweden in 1961 in a version co-translated by United Nations' secretary Dag Hammarskjöld. Another collection of her short stories, Spillway, was published in 1962, the year in which Selected Works (Spillway, The Antiphon, and Nightwood), appeared. During the 1960s and 1970s, Barnes also wrote much poetry, though little was published. Her final work was the verse menagerie Creatures In an Alphabet (1982). Barnes died in New York City on June 18, 1982, at the age of ninety.