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Joan was born to New Yorkers in Phoenix, Arizona. She studied with author Thaisa Frank (no relation) at the University of California in Berkeley, CA, and holds an MFA in creative fiction from Warren Wilson College in Asheville, NC.

She is a MacDowell, Vermont Studio Center, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and Ragdale Fellow; a Pushcart Prize nominee, and recent winner of the Mary McCarthy Prize for Short Fiction and of the River Teeth Literary Nonfiction Prize.


Joan's new novel, THE OUTLOOK FOR EARTHLINGS, emerged in Fall 2020 via Regal House Publishing! ForeWord Reviews declares: "With technicolor period details, intense reflections, and devastating acuity about women's compromises in love, The Outlook for Earthlings is an elegant elegy."


Bob Wake calls EARTHLINGS "a puzzle-perfect narrative...arguably Joan Frank's finest work to date." 


Joan's two most recent books are WHERE YOU'RE ALL GOING: FOUR NOVELLAS (Mary McCarthy Prize), published by Sarabande Books, and TRY TO GET LOST: ESSAYS ON TRAVEL AND PLACE (River Teeth Literary Nonfiction Prize), published by the University of New Mexico Press. 


Joan's 2017 novel, ALL THE NEWS I NEED, won the Juniper Prize for the Novel (University of Massachusetts Press). 


Her collected essays about the writing life, BECAUSE YOU HAVE TO: A WRITING LIFE, won the ForeWord Reviews Silver Book of the Year Award.

Past honors include the Richard Sullivan Prize, Dana Award, Iowa Writing Award, and notable others. Joan has received grants from the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation, and Sonoma Arts Council; she has been nominated twice for the Northern California Book Award in Fiction and named a San Francisco Library and Berkeley Public Library Literary Laureate. She has taught creative writing at San Francisco State University, and continues to offer private consultation.

Joan also reviews literary fiction and nonfiction for The Washington Post. She lives in Northern California.