A high school dropout at the age of 15, Kanehara pursued her passion for writing with the support of her father, Mizuhito Kanehara, a literary professor and translator of children's literature. She was born and currently lives in Tokyo.
In 2003, Kanehara was awarded the Subaru Literary Prize (Shueisha) for her novel Hebi ni Piasu (Snakes and Earrings); later that same year the novel won her the Akutagawa Prize, one of the most prestigious literary awards in Japan, making her and Risa Wataya the youngest people ever to receive this honor.
- Snakes and Earrings. Shueisha Publishing Co., 2003.
- Snakes and Earrings. (English translation, translator David Karashima) Dutton, 2005. ISBN 0-525-94889-9
- Ash Baby. Shueisha Publishing Co., 2004.
- AMEBIC. Shueisha Publishing Co., 2005.
- Autofiction. Shueisha Publishing Co.,2006.
- Hydra. Shincho Publishing Co.,2007.
- Onishi, Norimitsu (June 6, 2004). "An Aging Island Embraces Japan's Young Dropouts". The New York Times. Retrieved January 6, 2010.
- Thorne, Matt, Autofiction, By Hitomi Kanehara, trans David James Karashima, The Independent, 29 February 2008, Accessed 7 May 2008
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