East-West Center Oral History Project : Verner Bickley

Verner Bickley

Verner Bickley, born and educated in England, spent some exciting years in Asia before joining the East-West Center.  In India with the British Royal Navy he watched the Aga Khan being weighed in diamonds. Teaching in Singapore for the British Colonial Service, he witnessed the conflict between Commonwealth forces and the Malayan National Liberation Army.  His work for the British Council placed him in Jakarta during the burning of the British Embassy and also in Burma and Japan.  Invited to East-West Center in 1971, Bickley soon became the first director of the Culture Learning Institute (1971-1981).  In his interview, he talks about the challenges the new institute faced and some of his co-workers:  Agnes Niyekawa-Howard, Minoru Shinoda, Hazel Tatsuno, Greg Trifonovitch and Larry Smith. After leaving EWC, Bickley taught in Saudi Arabia; was the founding Director of the Hong Kong Government’s Institute of Language in Education; served as the Hong Kong representative for Trinity College, London; and chaired the English-Speaking Union in Hong Kong.  Today he and his wife live in Hong Kong where they have started a publishing house, Proverse, and launched an annual international literary prize (The Proverse Prize).


Read Bickley's interview narrative (pdf)


  • Personal Background - World War II Years - Passage to India, Ceylon - Civilian Life - Posting to Malaya - Teaching in Singapore - Joining the British Council - Posting to Japan
  • Life at EWC - Joining the Culture Institute, 1971
  • Intellectual Innovations - Director, Culture Learning Institute - Literature and Culture Program - Cultural Manifestations - Linguistics, Cross-Cultural Training - Other Breakthrough CLI Programs
  • Institutional Transitions - Separation from UH, 1975 - CLI Staff
  • Ties That Last
  • Life After EWC - Opportunities in Hong Kong       


Interview Quotes
"After a number of months as a coordinator, together with Agnes [Niyekawa-Howard], I wrote to President Kleinjans and said that I knew that he was looking for a Director of this new institute — I’d like to apply. He interviewed me and the result was that I was appointed in 1971. My fellow Directors were Dr. Paul Demeny (Population Institute), Dr. Nicholas Luykx (Food Institute), Dr. Lyle Webster (Communication Institute) and Dr. Hahn Bin Lee (Technology and Development Institute)." 

"Guy Amirthanayagam brought to the Center over several years some of the world’s leading writers. I cannot list them all but I remember that they included the beat poet, Alan Ginsberg, Malcolm Bradbury (knighted as “Sir” Malcolm in 2000), Janet Frame (Order of New Zealand), Tom Keneally (Booker Prize Winner, 1982), Keri Hume (Booker Prize, 1985), Vincent Eri (became Sir Vincent and Governor-General of Papua New Guinea), R.K. Narayan (Padma Vibhushan and A.C. Benson Medal), Kushwant Singh (Padma Vibhushan), Wole Soyinka (Nobel Literature Laureate 1986), and Albert Wendt (Companion of the Order of New Zealand)."

These narratives, which reflect interviewees’ personal perceptions, opinions and memories, may contain errors of fact. They do not reflect positions or versions of history officially approved by the East-West Center.