Mona Simpson Biography

Author(1957–)
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).

Synopsis

Sister of Apple Inc. co-founder Steve Jobs, American novelist Mona Simpson first came to literary fame with 1986's Anywhere But Here.

Early Life

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.

Early Successes

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.

Later Works

With 2000's Off Keck Road, Simpson made a dramatic departure from her past fiction. She eschewed the first-person narrative for this work, choosing to write this novella—which spans about 50 years and details the lives of three women—in third person. The book, set in Simpson's hometown of Green Bay, Wisconsin, explores the idea of "home" with these midwestern characters tied to one community.

In 2010, Simpson published My Hollywood. The novel, which took her 10 years to write, examines the lives and relationships of a composer and the Filipina nanny she's hired to take care of her son. Simpson told UCLA Today that "I thought a lot about the question, 'Can you buy love?' We all want children raised with love. Can you get that by hiring it? It's an interesting question." This novel made the Best Books of 2010 lists for several publications, including The Atlantic Monthly and The New Yorker. Publisher's Weekly wrote, "Funny, smart, and filled with razor sharp observations about life and parenthood, Simpson's latest is well worth the wait."

As for the future, Simpson is at work on several projects. She is writing one that involves amateur detectives and another regarding "diaspora Arabs living in the United States," according to her website. To aspiring writers, Simpson offers the following advice: "I would say to read—that's how we all learn."

Personal Life

Now divorced, Simpson has two children, Gabriel and Grace, from her marriage to TV writer Richard Appel. Appel worked on the popular animated series The Simpsons for several years and named one of the characters after his then-wife. Simpson lives in Los Angeles and works as a professor at Bard College and the University of California, Los Angeles.

Simpson was in her twenties when she reunited with her older brother Steve Jobs. The pair, despite their long separation, developed a close bond as adults. She was reportedly with Jobs when he died in 2011. At his funeral, Simpson delivered a eulogy praising her brother's passion for his work and for his family.

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