Born in Ouidah, Benin (formerly Dahomey), Bhêly-Quénum had his primary education in Benin from 1938 to 1944, after which he traveled throughout his native country, Nigeria, his maternal grandmother's country, and Ghana, where he learned English. In 1948 he went to France and undertook his secondary studies at the College Littré, in Avranches, Normandy (Manche). He worked as a teacher and trained as a diplomat, before turning to journalism. He was Editor-in-Chief and then Director of an African magazine entitled La Vie Africaine until 1964. He subsequently joined UNESCO in Paris.
He is the author of several works of fiction published in French. He won the Grand prix littéraire d'Afrique noire for Le Chant du lac in 1966. His first novel Un Piège Sans Fin (1960) was translated into English as Snares Without End (Longman, 1981) and has been called "an un-put-downable tragedy".