Sheila Kohler was born in Johannesburg in 1941 and grew up with violent impressions of South Africa under apartheid. The experiences of her childhood and youth shape her work to the present day. She has published three volumes of short stories, ten novels and a number of essays, and currently teaches at Princeton and Columbia Universities.
At 17 Kohler left South Africa for France, where she first studied literature at the Sorbonne and then psychology at the Institute Catholique. After raising three daughters, Kohler moved to New York in 1981 and completed Columbia University’s highly-regarded MFA Writing Program. Her first publication, »The Mountain« (1987) was in »The Quarterly« magazine and received the O. Henry Award, a key prize for English-language short stories. The story also formed the first chapter of her debut novel, »The Perfect Place« (1989), the story of a well-to-do woman who must face her traumatic past in South Africa and her memories of the violent death of a girl her age. Kohler’s first collection of short stories, »Miracles in America«, came out in 1990, followed by her second novel, »The House on R Street«. Recurring themes in her work are sexuality, violence, abuse and the radical race discrimination in South Africa in the 20th century. The short story »Africans«, first published in »Story« magazine in 1998, describes the life of a woman betrayed by both her violent husband and by her loyal servant, a member of the oppressed Zulus. Chosen for The Best American Short Stories of 1999, it was also published in her short story collection »One Girl«, for which Kohler received the Willa Cather Award. Kohler’s third novel, »Cracks«, also came out in 1999. It is set in a South African girls’ boarding school in the 1930s. The teacher Miss G. becomes obsessed with the charismatic pupil Fiama, provoking disastrous tensions in a previously harmonious group. The novel was nominated in 2001 for the Impac Award, one of the richest literary prizes, and was made into a film in 2009 by director Jordan Scott.
In recent years Kohler has written further works which have been translated into several languages and have won various awards. Her latest novel, »Dreaming for Freud« (2014), is a fictionalized account of the relationship between the father of psychoanalysis and Dora, one of his most famous patients. Kohler lives in New York and Amagansett.