About Bernice Chauly

Photo by Daniel Adams

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.

mulutmata@gmail.comklwritersworkshop@gmail.com; bernicechauly.com

30 Responses

  1. Firouz Mohd Mustapa
    Firouz Mohd Mustapa June 18, 2007 at 5:04 pm · Reply

    Dear Bernice,

    My name is Firouz – I used to attend Sekolah Menengah Agama Persekutuan in Labu during the time you did a stint over there in the early 90s. I was also in the school’s English Language debating team, which you helped coach in 1991 and 1992 (I still remember some of the more “theatrical” vocal trainig you taught us back then with other members of the debating team: Rizal, Huwaida, Raffazali, Ridzuan and Intan Sharzila). I just thought of dropping a line and saying “hello” as I just discovered this website of yours, after Google-ing your name. And that was prompted by my stumbling upon the name “Bernard Chauly” in an advert for a programme called “Malaysia Now” in London (where I’m residing). My partner and I had wanted to go to a screening of a couple of Malaysian movies as part of that programme, which was going to be introduced by your brother, but work commitments prevented us from doing so.

    I dont even know if you’d remember me (and my guess is that you’d rather forget as much about that school as possible?! I dont blame you!) but it was kind of cool to see you on YouTube and your involvement in the movie industry, so I decided to leave a message here. And please forgive me for my ignorance, as fourteen years of living in the UK has meant that I haven’t been following the Malaysian movie scene at all, to have realised that you are a part of it.

    Drop me a line if you want, and take care.

    Best wishes,


  2. Scotia Monkivitch
    Scotia Monkivitch June 26, 2007 at 1:56 pm · Reply

    Dear Bernice,
    I also am an old acquaintance who has stumbled across your website – how nice to hear and read your words again(hmmm what was it …. The Serpent something???!!!). Would be great to hear about your world and share mine – drop a line!

  3. Varinder
    Varinder August 16, 2007 at 5:13 am · Reply

    My dear sis,

    Enjoyed reading your articals, especially the one about Mum. May you be so blessed that people will look up at you, Jan & Bernard & may they say that,look they are the children of Bernard & Jane Chauly.

    May whatever all 3 of you do be a blessing to all around you.

    Lots of love,

    Manji & me

  4. ain syazrinie
    ain syazrinie March 23, 2008 at 12:44 pm · Reply

    hi there..
    i never knew that you r a someone!
    anyway,,i love your act as datin aina.. it is awesome..
    and it was great to meet u in this site because i do love poetry..
    all the very best …

  5. Susanne Zeidler
    Susanne Zeidler June 22, 2008 at 4:51 pm · Reply

    Hi Bernice, I’m Huats wife and Helenas mother. Remember, just met you in Annex on Friday!
    Have a look at our daughters blog: helenazeidler.wordpress.com
    would be nice if you let me know when you do the poems session for kids you mentioned. Would be great if I can bring Helena along and maybe we should get her to read one or two of her poems. What you think?

  6. chloe nicole
    chloe nicole July 15, 2008 at 12:09 pm · Reply

    hi bernice,
    honestly, i have no idea how to describe all the feelings im having now, i read ure book, “the book of sin”, n i was totally driven away, i’ve never read any poem with such feelings. it also kinda realise how much the love of a mother is towards her child,her children. ure words effects me alot,in a good way of cx.
    i dint get a chance to read the whole book because i dint have enough cash to buy it so i stayed in the bookshop for the whole 2 hours. i,myself is inspired to be a writer, i’ve been writing poems n short stories ever since i could remember,i rili hope to meet u and i rili hope u could guide me,n teach me more.i rili look up to u. thankx! pls do write to me.

  7. weng ibrahim
    weng ibrahim July 18, 2008 at 9:30 am · Reply

    hi bernice..
    i cakap kat my fren u org malaysia. tp my fren kata u org spore. mana yg betul?

  8. Made Ira Wijayanti
    Made Ira Wijayanti October 23, 2008 at 3:31 am · Reply

    Hello, I am Made Ira and I.m from bali. Currently I am the student of translation Program in one of University in Bali. Well , Ms. Bernice, i am so interesting with your poetry entitle Forgiveness in which it had been performed in Ubud Writers Festival. By the, i would like to ask your permission, may I use your poetry as the data for my master thesis. I really interested in analyzing the poetry translation. O ya for your poetry entitle “Forgiveness” I’ve got the Indonesian version but for the English version I’ve not yet, so would you so be kind to send me via email for the English version.
    well Ms.Bernice, i really hope your permission and also i really hope to receive your answer as soon as possible (if it is not disturbing you of course) so that I can arrange my proposal. Thank you in advance.

    Sincerely yours,
    Made Ira Wijayanti

  9. C. H. Yurma
    C. H. Yurma November 17, 2008 at 10:39 am · Reply

    sebentar aku jumpai wajahmu
    sebelum senja tumpah serapah
    sebab akulah yang selalu malam
    mengucap mimpi di ujung cahaya
    yang memerah
    lebih bermakna dari darah
    padahal kita selalu punya

  10. Michael Tim
    Michael Tim February 28, 2009 at 6:13 pm · Reply

    I love your site! :)

    Experiencing a slow PC recently? Fix it now!

  11. Michelle
    Michelle June 17, 2009 at 5:27 am · Reply

    Hi Bernice!

    Thank you for inspiring us, the Malaysians with your work.

    I would love to one day, meet up with you to talk about your effort and your work. Keep up the good job!


  12. Chaz
    Chaz June 22, 2009 at 11:30 pm · Reply

    I am doing a paper about You and Duane Michals and Jim Goldberg. I really like your work. I really like how you juxtaposed some of your poems with your photographs. In this post-modern era, I have the same idea. I just haven’t made a move with it yet. Keep up the good work! Peace and Love

  13. FiFi
    FiFi July 13, 2009 at 3:37 pm · Reply


    im doing TESOL in USM Penang and taking a subject on Malaysian author. im interested to work on a project about you and your work. due to this, i want to hv an interview with you. im very honoured if you agree to meet me n my group whenever you are available. pls reply my request…
    thank you very much!

  14. Roop Dhillon
    Roop Dhillon February 9, 2010 at 6:50 pm · Reply


    I am curious about how much of your Punjabi and Chinese heritage has influenced you. Do you know any Punjabi for instance? Do you classfy yourself as an English Language writer, or an Chino-Punjabi one?

  15. Sanchari Sur
    Sanchari Sur April 23, 2010 at 5:34 am · Reply

    Hi Bernice,

    I stumbled upon your blog through Sharanya Manivannan’s blog (I am a fan of her poetry). The title of your book sounds compelling. It reminds me of Maxine Hong Kingston’s book, “The Woman Warrior: memoirs of a girlhood among ghosts”. Incidently, she is also of Chinese descent. Do check it out, if you haven’t already.

    Meanwhile, drop me a line if you can. I am new to this blogging scene, although I am also a poet and a writer.

  16. Santo Batto
    Santo Batto June 14, 2010 at 3:31 am · Reply

    A Great blog post, I will save this post in my Reddit account. Have a good evening.

  17. Ashweein Narayanan
    Ashweein Narayanan July 6, 2010 at 6:08 am · Reply

    dear bernice,

    Hello, my name is Ashweein, and i have just published a book on poetry. I came across your blog as i was looking through my friend’s frequently-read-blogs, as well as being recommended by Tunku Halim. Your posts are both interesting and entertaining.

    By the way, i was just wondering if you could give me your opinion on a matter. I have published a book, however it is with a self publishing company based in Australia, which cost me quite a bit (financially). I was wondering what would the process be like trying to get my book published in Malaysia, and would you recommend me to do so? If you do, which publishers should i look out for?

    Please advice me on this matter. Thank you very much.


  18. John Davidson
    John Davidson July 16, 2010 at 4:27 am · Reply


    Hope you’re well. I’m a freelance journalist who’s writing a feature on media financing for filmmakers in Asia Pacific, particularly in Malaysian, for the magazine Asia Image. It would be great to find out your thoughts on this issue, as a prominent filmmaker, and how media financing differs from country to country in SE Asia. Would you be available for a phone or email interview? Hope you can help.

    John Davidson

  19. Annisa
    Annisa March 29, 2011 at 12:55 pm · Reply

    Dear Bernice,
    I’m writing an article about Arahmaiani for Aquila Asia magazine, and I saw a great picture of her on your blog (http://bernicechauly.wordpress.com/2008/10/03/2005-arahmaianis-lecture-on-painting-part-1-accompanied-by-photography-by-bernice-chauly/) and I would like to get your permission for the picture. Would it be okay if we use your picture of Arahmaiani on the magazine. We are going to credit you for the picture. :)

  20. Ary Adenan
    Ary Adenan July 20, 2011 at 11:37 am · Reply

    Hi Bernice, when is your autobiography coming out? I can’t wait for it!

  21. sagar
    sagar October 18, 2011 at 4:55 am · Reply

    Dear Ms. Chauly:

    I was in KL for a short business trip this Oct and came across your book. What a warm, haunting, and compelling work! As someone of Indian origin and Canadian heritage, there were many familiar points to your story. Keep writing–it will certainly give not only readers a delight, but be very interesting for your own daughters (about 20 years from now, I predict a book called “Growing up with Bernice” !)

    Thanks again for a most memorable voyage.


    NANDINI SANDRAN October 31, 2011 at 3:25 pm · Reply

    Dear Ms.Bernice Chauly,

    I’ve been in love with novels ever since my tender years—recently—my mum presented me your ‘ Growing Up With Ghosts’ as my 18th bday gift—–that was simply AWESOME!!! OMG—of all the novels that i’ve read—-That was superb–well expressed through emotions—histories—-nostalgically —WOW—-hats off to you for presenting a beautiful written memories of your family—-
    and of course—i’m hoping to read more novels—written by Bernice Chauly—


  23. Jaspal Kaur Gill
    Jaspal Kaur Gill November 10, 2011 at 4:37 am · Reply

    Hi Bernice,

    Am halfway reading your novel Growing Up With Ghost, am emotionally touched by the story line. Your dad’s sure proud of you. By the way how did your father die!


  24. zak
    zak January 19, 2012 at 7:04 am · Reply

    please read this …….!

    hi . Bernice Chauly.

    i have translated your book “lost in KL” into Arabic Language .So could you please contact me on my e mail address to talk about the translation and how to publish it .


    my emai : hsz_000@yahoo.com

  25. Thomas Chua
    Thomas Chua May 21, 2012 at 1:21 am · Reply

    I emailed you earlier after reading your book. Still haunted my the memory, I dug into my family album and found my class photo of 1969. You father is in the photo and I wish you have a copy of it. Can you email me your email address?

  26. niki
    niki July 7, 2012 at 11:30 pm · Reply

    BOUGHT UR BOOK and burst tears on ur parents pure loves

  27. Harnek Singh
    Harnek Singh August 4, 2012 at 2:37 pm · Reply

    Hi my dear I am amazed to have stumble over your book, and to my shock I know your good and well, God Bless Surinder.

  28. What’s better than writing? Winning (a writing prize)! – Geraldine Stallard

    [...] I will be considering EO-published poems for submission to the Prize. Judges for the Prize are Bernice Chauly (Malaysia), Olin Monteiro (Indonesia) and Ng Yi-Sheng [...]

  29. Georgetown Literary Festival Penang Malaysia - Lemn SissayLemn Sissay

    [...] is writer poet educator and director of the festival, Bernice Chauly.  The remainder of this blog is taken with permission  from her fearless opening [...]

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