Joan Kahn was born in New York City and attended the Horace Mann School, Barnard College, and the Yale School of Art. Her younger brother, E.J. Kahn, also grew up to become a writer. She began her editing career in 1946 at Harper Brothers--later Harper and Row--editing hundreds of books on art, travel, and history. She established the Harper Novels of Suspense department, and published works by top mystery writers such as Patricia Highsmith and Tony Hillerman. She introduced American readers to many British writers, including Nicholas Blake, John Creasey, Dick Francis, Michael Gilbert, Julian Symons, and the great Dorothy L. Sayers, whose books were out -of-print until Harper republished her complete works. During the 1960s, she had her own imprint, "A Joan Kahn Book," one of the highest honors in publishing, which represented excellence to mystery readers. She also edited books for Ticknor & Fields, E.P. Dutton, and St. Martin's Press, from which she retired in 1989. She wrote two novels, To Meet Miss Long (1943) and Open House (1946) and four children’s books of her own. The Mystery Writers of America awarded Joan Kahn the Ellery Queen Award and the Edgar Allan Poe Award in recognition of her contribution to publishing.