A graduate of Barnard College, she was managing editor of discovery, a literary magazine, before moving from New York to Cambridge, MA, in 1959 when she began her career as novelist.
Bernays has been published widely in national magazines and journals and is a long-time teacher of writing at Boston University, Boston College, Holy Cross, Harvard Extension, Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard, and MFA Program at Lesley University.
She is a founder of PEN/New England and a member of the Writer’s Union. She serves as chairman of the board of Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown and co-president of Truro Center for the Arts at Castle Hill.
Her father, Edward L. Bernays, was a nephew of Sigmund Freud and is known as 'the father of Public Relations'. Bernays appeared in the Adam Curtis series The Century of Self (2002) where she was critical of her father's shaky commitment to democracy and skill at manipulation. Her mother, Doris E. Fleischman, was a writer and feminist. She is married to the biographer and editor Justin Kaplan; they live in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Truro, Massachusetts, and have three daughters and six grandchildren.
The book ends in 1959, with Bernays and Kaplan, married and the parents of two small daughters, leaving Manhattan for Cambridge, Mass., he to work on a biography of Mark Twain, she to write her first novel. The New York they leave behind, one that New York itself had left behind, was something unmatchable anywhere in the world.