Podcast #63: Djuna Barnes

In this episode, translator Laura Radosh introduces us to the fascinating and troubled writer Djuna Barnes. The journalist, novelist, and artist mixed with everyone from James Joyce to Peggy Guggenheim, and was at the center of Bohemian life in 1920s New York and Paris, though perhaps not quite as much as she would like. Best known (if at all) for her modernist novel Nightwood, Djuna once called herself ”the most famous unknown in the world.”

DLS co-founder Florian Duijsens joins producer/host Susan Stone to muse on Djuna and her circle of modernist Dead Ladies.

If you’d like to get advance tickets for our May show in Berlin they are here. DLS NYC tickets can be purchased here.

Also available on SpotifyApple PodcastsRadioPublicPocket CastsStitcherGoogle Podcasts, and Acast.

Show notes:

Read more: Podcast #63: Djuna Barnes
Barnes’s place on Patchin Place
Another portrait by sometime roommate Berenice Abbott
Young Djuna
Grandma Zadel
The note from Zadel Laura mentions
One of Djuna’s elegant drawings
Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, who tragically picked Djuna to be her literary executor
Mary Pyne, the lover whom Djuna nursed until her death of tuberculosis in 1919
Djuna eyeing Mina Loy
The “fountain syringe” used the bottom-left nozzle
To Paris!
Djuna and the Baroness in happier times
Janet Flanner, who covered Paris for the New Yorker
Margaret Anderson & Jane Heap, editors of the Little Review
Natalie Barney, here with Romaine Brooks
Brooks’s typically severe self-portrait
You can see Natalie Barney’s Parisian home and garden with its Temple of Friendship in this documentary.
Silverpoint artist Thelma Wood, who inspired Djuna’s famous Nightwood (1936)
Greta Schiller’s Paris Was a Woman (1996) is well worth seeking out in full!
Peggy Guggenheim
Charles Henri Ford, buttoning up
Listen to Dylan Thomas reading Nightwood here.

You can hear Djuna reading from her autobiographical play in verse The Antiphon at the Paris Review, and check out our episodes on Berenice Abbott and Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven.

Our theme music is “Little Lily Swing” by Tri-Tachyon. Want to suggest a Dead Lady for us? Drop us a line to info@deadladiesshow.com or tell us on social media. Thanks for listening! We’ll be back with a new episode next month.

Dead Ladies Show #30

After a long hibernation, we are slowly coming out of our shells again, thrilled to announce that we’ll be returning to our beloved ACUD for a live show on Monday, May 2!

Join our guest presenters, writer STEFANIE DE VELASCO and translator LAURA RADOSH, along with your beloved co-host KATY DERBYSHIRE, to learn about three women who did big things in their lifetimes. All held together by your other beloved co-host, FLORIAN DUIJSENS.

All three of the ladies presented were writers in their own ways: a Black science-fiction originator, an influential modernist who created a classic of lesbian fiction, and an actor and singer who put her own version of her life into bestselling books. We’ll be rocking the ACUD Studio as the night sets in, celebrating lives lived to great effect.

Presented in a messy mixture of English and German. €7 or €4 reduced entry. Generously supported by the Berliner Senat. Doors open 7.30 pm – come on time to get a good seat!

We have limited space, so please book in advance via Eventbrite. 2G entry only – geimpft or genesen. Please bring a mask to use when you’re not at your seat.


OCTAVIA E. BUTLER grew up in a racially integrated community, surrounded by segregation in 1940s and 50s America. She begged for her first typewriter at ten, and never looked back, submitting stories to science fiction magazines and eventually becoming a beloved creator of multiple fictional worlds. She was proud to have three loyal audiences: Black readers, science-fiction fans, and feminists.

DJUNA BARNES had an unconventional childhood in New York before becoming a journalist. She is best known for her time in 1920s Paris, where she chronicled lesbian life. Friends with all the cool modernist writers, she eventually managed to publish her influential avant-garde novel Nightwood in 1936. She also gave us poems, stage plays, other novels, and her Book of Repulsive Women.

HILDEGARD KNEF was a postwar German actress who learned all the wrong things from Marlene Dietrich. She acted in over 50 films and had a leading role on Broadway. After her screen and stage career stalled in the 1960s, she started writing songs and became a hugely popular entertainer. Her next move was into books, chronicling her life as she wanted people to see it rather than accurately.

Dead Ladies Show #7

It’s practically summer! And to ring in this wonderfully sunny (and thunderstormy) season our very special literary cabaret is heading to Gay Paris – although not literally. Tuesday, 14 June, 8pm sees the seventh Dead Ladies Show at ACUD, featuring three fascinating women of yesteryear: Louise MichelDjuna Barnes, and Sister Rosetta Tharpe! From communard to bohemian writer to gospel legend, each of them rocked the city in their very own way.

As always, we will be celebrating them in German and English, with this edition’s presenters being author and journalist Jan Groh, translator Laura Radosh, and your co-host Florian Duijsens – all held together by Katy Derbyshire, of course.

By popular request we’ve moved upstairs to the ACUD Studio, where there’ll be a special drink available at the bar as ever. So whether you come say “Bonjour Paris” in your best Audrey Hepburn/Fred Astaire threads or pick a more down-and-out look, make sure you join us. It’s only €4 on the door – come on time to get the best seats!

p.s. Should you require a daily dose of dead-lady magic, check us out at @deadladiesshow.

LOUISE MICHEL (1830 – 1905) was an anarchist and animal lover, a feminist, a romantic, a passable writer and a teacher. Known as “the red she-wolf”, she was famed for attaching a protest poster to a policeman’s back and rescuing a cat from a hail of bullets mid-street battle. She fought for the Paris Commune and survived various prison sentences and exile in New Caledonia, where she became a fan of Kanak quarter-tone music. On her return to France she was lauded and lambasted as an agitator for freedom, equality and social justice. Her funeral drew a hundred thousand mourners onto the streets.

In 1912, DJUNA BARNES (1892 – 1982) walks into the Brooklyn Eagle office and declares: “I can write and I can draw and you’d be a fool not to hire me.” Thus began the literary career of the writer of one of *the* modern novels, Nightwood. From an unhappy childhood in a highly unconventional dysfunctional family, via the 1930s Parisian lesbian literary bohème, to a misanthropic recluse in the West Village, Djuna Barnes’ life was certainly never dull. Plus she was one of the only people in the famous circles she moved in who actually had to earn a living as a writer, illustrator, first-wave feminist, bisexual, and alcoholic.

Called the godmother of rock ‘n’ roll, SISTER ROSETTA THARPE (1915 – 1973) was a guitarist and gospel singer with a profound influence on musicians like Little Richard, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, and Aretha Franklin. She took to the stage at the age of four and never really left it. Sister Rosetta Tharpe made the first gospel record to hit the charts, played with Cab Calloway at the Cotton Club, attracted 25,000 paying customers to her third wedding, got in trouble with gospel purists and recorded a live album in Paris in 1964. “With a Gibson SG in her hands, Sister Rosetta could raise the dead. And that was before she started to sing.”