Marcus Head Shot

Joan Marcus

Assistant Professor, Writing
School: School of Humanities and Sciences
Phone: 607-274-3470
Office: Smiddy Hall 420
Specialty: Memoir, Fiction, Children's Literature

I was born in Boston, the granddaughter of Communist labor organizers and the daughter of visual artists. I write because I can’t paint and I want to make something beautiful out of a messy and imperfect world, so I guess I’m attempting to carry on family traditions in my own way. Although my Master of Fine Arts is in fiction writing, I turned to memoir and personal essay in 2006 and have been writing nonfiction ever since. 

Here at Ithaca College I teach both fiction and nonfiction, including courses such as Writing Children’s Literature, Memoir, Creative Nonfiction, Personal Essay, and Women and Writing. The essay is a favorite subject of mine. I love how this essentially hybrid genre allows writers to pull together elements of personal reflection, narrative writing, cultural or literary analysis, and investigative journalism. As a teacher, I specialize in breaking down what I see as a false dichotomy between “creative” and “critical” writing, helping students to produce works that are simultaneously analytical, reflective, illustrative, and highly inventive.   

When I’m not writing or teaching, I’m gardening, hiking, or working on my pottery. I may not be able to paint, but I can throw a passable mug.


  • Memoir
  • Fiction
  • Narrative Nonfiction
  • The Essay


  • M.F.A. Creative Writing, University of Arizona, 1992
  • B.A. Creative Writing and History, Oberlin College, 1986

Some Publications & Works in Progress

  • Avoidant Type, memoir in progress.
  • "Books in Conversation: David Winner with Joan Marcus" (interview) in The Brooklyn Rail, May 2021.
  • "Seven Minutes in the Moss Forest" (essay) in The Smart Set, Drexel University, Aug. 31, 2020. 
  • "White Fantasy: Laura Ingalls Wilder, Covid, and the Myth of Self-sufficiency" (essay) in Stat®Rec, June 20, 2020. Anthologized in Writing the Virus from Outpost 19, November, 2020. 
  • "Avoidant Type" (memoir excerpt) in Stat®Rec, Oct. 19, 2019.
  • "The Women's March on Washington: It Doesn't End Here"  (editorial) in The Jerusalem Post, Jan. 22, 2017.
  • "Embrace the Mystery" (essay) in Superstition Review, Arizona State University, Dec. 4, 2014.
  • "Sweet Words" (essay) in The Smart Set and Table Matters, Drexel University, July 16, 2014.
  • "The Naked Truth" (essay) in The Smart Set, Drexel University, Nov. 29, 2013.
  • "The Wounded Man" (essay) in The Smart Set, Drexel University, August 1, 2013.
  • "My Mess" (essay) in The Journal, Ohio State University, Summer 2013.
  • "Speechless" (essay) in Laurel Review, Maryville, MO, Spring 2010.
  • "Survival Stories" (essay) in Alaska Quarterly Review, Anchorage, AK, Fall & Winter 2009. Anthologized in Man in the Moon: Essays on Fathers and Fatherhood, Colorado State University Center for Literary Publishing, June 2014. 
  • "Curse Like a Sailor" (essay) in Brain, Child, Lexington, VA, Spring 2009.
  • "Exalting the Weird" (essay) in Fourth Genre, East Lansing, MI, Spring 2009.
  • “Along for the Ride” (essay) in The Sun, Chapel Hill, NC, April, 2006.
  • Chapters from Saturn Returning (a novel) published in the Constance Saltonstall Foundation 1999 Chapbook.
  • "Cartoon" (short fiction) in Gulf Coast, Houston, TX, Summer 1996.
  • "The Taking of Charlotte" (short fiction) in The Georgia Review, Athens, GA, Summer 1992.   
  • "Birobidzhan" (short fiction) in Beloit Fiction Journal, Beloit, WI, Fall 1992.
  • "The Dead Are Eating" (short fiction) in Puerto del Sol, Las Cruces, NM, Summer 1992.
  • "Scrub" (short fiction) in Sun Dog: The Southeast Review, Tallahassee, FL, Spring 1992.
  • "Jacob's Heart" (short fiction) in Tucson Guide Quarterly, Tucson, AZ, Summer 1992.

Grants, Awards, & Residencies

  • 2024 Juried Residency at the Saltonstall Foundation, Ithaca, NY, June 10-July 8.
  • 2023 Juried Residency at the Writers' Colony at Dairy Hollow, Eureka Springs, AK July 11-18.
  • 2022 Center for Faculty Excellence Summer Research Grant.
  • 2007 Constance Saltonstall Grant for Memoir/Autobiography. 
  • 1999 Constance Saltonstall Grant for Prose Writing. 
  • 1996 Pushcart Prize Nomination for "Cartoon" (short story).
  • 1993 Pushcart Prize Nomination for "The Taking of Charlotte." Listed in Pushcart Prize XVIII "Stories of Note."
  • 1992 John Weston Award for outstanding University of Arizona graduate fiction writer.
  • 1991 Minnie Torrence Award for graduate student achievement in writing.