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Born in 1957, Mona Simpson spent her early years in Green Bay, Wisconsin. She moved with her mother to Los Angeles as a teenager. While earning her M.F.A. degree at Columbia, Simpson became an editor at the Paris Review. She won accolades for her first novel Anywhere But Here (1986). After that initial success, Simpson has continued to produce well-regarded literary works, including My Hollywood (2010).
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Sister of Apple Inc. co-founder Steve Jobs, American novelist Mona Simpson first came to literary fame with 1986's Anywhere But Here.
"I have a fantasy that at the end of my life I'll retreat to a cork-lined room and rework my books so they all fit together."
Author Mona Simpson emerged as an up-and-coming literary light with her debut novel Anywhere But Here in 1986. The skilled fiction writer is known for exploring dysfunctional relationships, some of which may have inspired by some of her own experiences. Her Syrian father, Abdulfattah "John" Jandali, and her mother, Joanne Schieble (later Simpson), met at the University of Wisconsin. The couple had a son two years before Simpson's birth. They gave that child up for adoption, and Simpson did not meet her big brother—Apple Inc. co-founder Steve Jobs—until decades later.
Simpson's parents split up in the early 1960s, and she soon lost touch with her father. Simpson took her stepfather's last name when her mother remarried. She spent her early years in Green Bay, Wisconsin, before moving out to Los Angeles with her mother. This cross-country trek informed Simpson's first novel. "The move in Anywhere But Here is totally true. It's probably the truest thing in the book. It's what sparked it," she later told Publishers Weekly.
At the University of California, Berkeley, Simpson focused much of her talents on writing poetry. She graduated in 1979, and after writing for newspapers and holding a series of unfulfilling jobs, she headed east to Columbia University to pursue a Master's of Fine Arts degree in writing. Simpson started writing short fiction with remarkable results, quickly getting one of her stories accepted by the Iowa Review. Around this time, she joined the staff of the literary magazine Paris Review as an editor.
While at Columbia, Simpson began working on a longer piece. This fictional endeavor became Anywhere But Here (1986), a complex rendered exploration of a mother-daughter relationship. This compelling first-person narrative follows Ann Stevenson and her mother Adele as they relocate to Hollywood for Ann's acting career. A critical success, Anywhere But Here won raves from critics. The New York Times called the novel "brilliant, funny, at times astonishing." It later became a feature film starring Natalie Portman and Susan Sarandon.
In 1992, Simpson published her second novel The Lost Father. She again returned to the character of Ann Stevenson, but this time Ann is all grown up and in search of her Egyptian father. A few years later, Simpson gave readers another engrossing exploration of complicated family dynamics in A Regular Guy (1996). This time, a young girl seeks out the father—a technical titan a la Bill Gates or Simpson's own brother, Steve Jobs—she never knew. In these early works, Simpson "dissects the same, bitter family plot that turns on a flaky mother, a daughter's struggle to win back an absent father and a family gripped by wanderlust and the allure of the West," one critic wrote in Publisher's Weekly. But each time, Simpson manages to find "fresh and disquieting approaches to fractured families," as another critic noted.
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