Bernhardt has sold more than 10 million books in several different countries throughout the world. He has been nominated for the Oklahoma Book Award fourteen times in three different categories (Fiction, Poetry, and Young Adult) and has twice won, in 1995 and 1999. In 1998 he received the Southern Writers Guild's Gold Medal Award. In 2000, he was honored with the H. Louise Cobb Distinguished Author Award, which is given "in recognition of an outstanding body of work that has profoundly influenced the way in which we understand ourselves and American society at large." That same year, he was presented with a Career Achievement Award at the 2000 Booklovers Convention in Houston. He has also been inducted into the Oklahoma Writers Hall of Fame. In 2009, he received the Royden B. Davis Distinguished Author Award from the University of Scranton, making him the only author to receive both the Davis and the Cobb Distinguished Author awards.
Bernhardt is best known for his series of novels featuring idealistic attorney Ben Kincaid. Library Journal called him the "master of the courtroom drama." He has also written several novels outside the series, including the nonfiction novel Nemesis: The Final Case of Eliot Ness, which is currently in production as a miniseries for Sony/NBC. Bernhardt spent over two years researching that book, which provides a compelling solution to the unsolved mystery of the identity of The Mad Butcher of Cleveland, generally considered America's first true serial killer.
Bernhardt is also one of the nation's most in-demand writing instructors. He hosts an annual writing workshop each year in Oklahoma and small-groups seminars in different cities and states throughout the country. Successfully published graduates of Bernhardt's writing seminars include New York Times-bestselling author Aprilynne Pike, UK national bestseller Sarah Rees Brennan, Oklahoma Book Award winner Sheldon Russell, Oklahoma Book Award nominee Audrey Streetman, Greg Field, Michael W. Hinkle, Callie Hutton, Lela Davidson, Rick Stiller, Angela Christina Archer, Tamara Grantham, Bill Fernandez, Kenneth Andrus, Paul Dalzell, John Biggs, Bill Wetterman, Sabrina A Fish, Lara Wells, Burke Holbrook, Rick Ludwig, and more than a dozen other published writers.
In addition to his work as a writer and teacher, in 1999, he founded HAWK Publishing Group. HAWK has published books by acclaimed authors such as Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist N. Scott Momaday, Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Janis Ian, and PBS newsman Jim Lehrer. The primary focus of the company, however, has been to provide a publishing venue for the unpublished. Almost half of the company's more than 100 books have been first novels. Among other successes, HAWK published the first novel by P.C. Cast, now known for her highly successful House of Night series of young adult novels. In 2009, he closed HAWK, though he now publishes intermittently under the name Bernhardt Books.
Other Bernhardt endeavors have included hosting an annual writing workshop (the Rose State Short Course on Writing), teaching writing throughout the nation, writing the music, lyrics, and script for a musical (he is a pianist and songwriter), producing two music CDs, constructing crossword puzzles for The New York Times, surfing, digging for dinosaurs, trekking through the Himalayas, paragliding, scuba diving, zip-lining over the canopy of the Costa Rican rain forest, and jumping out of an airplane at 10,000 feet.
A former trial attorney, Bernhardt has received several awards for his pro bono work and public service. In 1994, Barrister Magazine named him one of the top 25 young lawyers in America. He lives in Oklahoma with his wife, Lara Bernhardt, the novelist and audiobook narrator, and their children. On October 10, 2013, Bernhardt became a Jeopardy! champion, fulfilling a lifelong dream of appearing on that quiz show.
"Ben Kincaid" Series
Story Structure: The Key to Successful Fiction (2010) Creating Character: Bringing Your Story to Life (2011) Perfecting Plot: Charting the Hero's Journey (2012) The White Bird (poetry) (2013) Dynamic Dialogue: Letting Your Story Speak (2014) Sizzling Style: Every Word Matters (2014) The Black Sentry (young adult) (2014) Equal Justice: The Courage of Ada Lois Sipuel (children) (2014) Shine (young adult) (2015) The Game Master (2015)
- Official Website
- Fantastic Fiction biography
- Writers Review interview (Internet Archive version)
- William Bernhardt: Oklahoma's Renaissance Man, Dottie Witter, Oklahoma State University Library Perspectives newsletter, Issue 28, Spring 2001