Bernice Chauly is a Malaysian novelist, poet and educator. Born in George Town, Penang, to Chinese-Punjabi teachers, she read Education and English Literature in Canada as a government scholar. For over 20 years, she worked as a multi-disciplinary artist and is recognized as one of the most significant voices of her generation. She is also the former Festival Director of the George Town Literary Festival (2011-2018), which won the Literary Festival Award at the 2018 London Book Fair’s International Excellence Awards.
She is the author of six books, which include poetry and prose; going there and coming back(1997), The Book of Sins(2008), Lost in KL(2008), the acclaimed memoir Growing Up With Ghosts (2011) which won the Readers’ Choice Awards 2012 in the Non-Fiction Category and Onkalo(2013, “Direct, honest and powerful”–JM Coetzee). Her debut novel Once We Were There (2017), set against the Malaysian Reformasi of 1998 has been hailed as a “groundbreaking page-turner on the taboos of race, religion, sex, drugs, and Malaysian politics” – South China Morning Post, and “a stirring, necessary read.” –The Star, Malaysia. Once We Were Therewon the inaugural Penang Monthly Book Prize 2017, the 2ndPrize in Fiction of the Star-Popular Readers’ Choice Awards 2018, and is published by Epigram Books Singapore-London.
In 1998, she began organizing literary events, and in 2005, founded Readings, the longest-running live literary platform in Kuala Lumpur. In 2011, she was Festival Director for the Writers Unlimited Tour Kuala Lumpur/Makassar and was also the co-curator of at Read My World Internationaal Literatuurfestival Amsterdam 2015.
For over two decades, she worked extensively in the creative industries as a writer, photographer, actor and filmmaker and has won multiple awards for her work and her contribution to the arts in Malaysia. Her photographs and films have been exhibited and screened worldwide.
She has had writing residencies in Amsterdam with the Nederlands Letterenfonds, the International Writing Program (IWP) in Iowa City, Sitka Island Institute in Sitka, Alaska, and Taipei Artist Village in Taiwan. She has toured and performed in noted literary festivals in England (Worlds Literature Festival, Norwich), the Dutch Antilles, South Africa, Indonesia (Ubud Writers Festival, Salihara Biennale, Makassar International Writers Festival), India (Asian Writers Festival, Guwahati, Mathrubhumi International Festival of Letters), Thailand, Singapore (Singapore Writers Festival), USA (Iowa City Book Festival) and the Netherlands (Writers Unlimited). In 2018, under the auspices of Writers South Australia and a residency in the Inman Valley, she appeared at Adelaide Writers Week and NZ Writers Week in Wellington, and at the international literatur festival(ilb) in Berlin under the support of the Heinrich-Böll Foundation.
She has lectured for almost 20 years in literature and creative writing at colleges and universities in Kuala Lumpur and is an Honorary Fellow in Writing at the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program (IWP 2014). She is the founder and director of the KL Writers Workshop (KLWW) and currently lectures at the University of Nottingham Malaysia (UNM). Her fourth collection of poems Incarcerations/Incantations will be published in July 2019.