at the 2014 National Book Festival
June 14, 1957
Green Bay, Wisconsin, United States
|Alma mater||University of California, Berkeley
|Notable works||Anywhere But Here (1986)
The Lost Father (1992)
A Regular Guy (1996)
|Spouse||Richard Appel (divorced)|
|Relatives||Steve Jobs (biological brother) (deceased)|
Mona E. Simpson (born Mona Jandali, June 14, 1957) is an American author. She is a professor of English at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and the Sadie Samuelson Levy Professor in Languages and Literature at Bard College. She won the Whiting Prize for her first novel, Anywhere but Here (1986). It was a popular success and adapted as a film by the same name, released in 1999. She then wrote a sequel for it, The Lost Father in 1992. Her novel Off Keck Road (2000) won the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize and was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award.
Mona Jandali was born in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Her father Abdulfattah "John" Jandali, originally from Homs, Syria, was a cousin of composer and pianist Malek Jandali. Abdulfattah taught at the University of Wisconsin and later made a career in the food and beverage industry. Her mother, Joanne Carole Schieble, was his student; however, they were the same age because Jandali had "gotten his PhD really young". Schieble became a speech language pathologist. They divorced in 1962 and Joanne lost touch with Jandali. Joanne remarried and Mona was given the last name of her stepfather, Simpson.
Simpson received her B.A. from the University of California, Berkeley, and her M.F.A. from Columbia University. After graduating from Columbia, she worked as an editor for Paris Review. In 1994, she returned to Los Angeles with her husband. In 2001, she started teaching creative writing at UCLA, and also has an appointment at Bard College in New York.
Simpson's novels are a mixture of events from her life and pure fiction. Her first novel, Anywhere But Here (1986), was a critical and popular success, winning the Whiting Prize. In describing her intentions for the novel, Simpson stated:
I wanted to write about American mythologies, American yearnings that might be responses, delayed or exaggerated but in some way typical, to the political and social truths of our part of the world in our century. But I wrote very personally about one family. I think it takes a long time before a crisis—like AIDS—enters the culture to a point where responses exist in a character, where personal gestures are both individual and resonant in a larger way. 
It was adapted as the 1999 film Anywhere But Here, starring Susan Sarandon and Natalie Portman. A Regular Guy (1996) explores the strained relationship of a Silicon Valley tycoon with a daughter born out of wedlock, whom he did not acknowledge. Off Keck Road (2000), portraying decades in the lives of three women in the Midwest, was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award and won the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize. Stacey D'Erasmo states that "Off Keck Road marks the place where origin leaves off and improvisation begins".
Simpson's most recent novel, My Hollywood, was published in 2011. It explores the complex relationships, issues of class, and perspectives of two women, a European-American composer and mother in her 30s, and her immigrant nanny from the Philippines, who cares for her son and has five of her own in the Philippines whom she is supporting. The novel alternates between the voices of the two women, contrasting their worlds. Liesl Schillinger suggests that the novel is a "compassionate fictional exploration of this complicated global relationship, Simpson assesses the human cost that the child-care bargain exacts on the amah, on her employer and on the children of both." Ron Charles further argues that:
What really invigorates this novel, though, is the way it alternates between Claire's chapters and chapters narrated by Lola, her 50-year-old Filipino nanny. I was worried early on that Lola would be a Southeast Asian version of the Magical Negro, who exists merely to help some self-absorbed white person reach enlightenment. But she's entirely her own wonderful, troubled character, and her relationship with Claire remains complex and unresolved.
Abdulfattah "John" Jandali and Joanne Carole Schieble had a baby boy in 1955 prior to both their marriage and Mona's birth, but gave him up for adoption. The boy, computer pioneer Steve Jobs, was adopted by Paul and Clara Jobs. In the 1980s, Jobs found his birth mother, by then Joanne Simpson, who told him that Mona was his biological sister. The siblings met for the first time in 1985 and developed a close friendship. They kept their relationship secret until 1986, when Simpson introduced Jobs as her brother at her book party for her first novel, Anywhere But Here. The two forged a relationship and he regularly visited her in Manhattan. Simpson said, "My brother and I are very close; I admire him enormously". Jobs said, "We're family. She's one of my best friends in the world. I call her and talk to her every couple of days".
Simpson had already been looking for their father and found him, then managing a coffee shop. When she reached Jandali, he said, "I wish you could have seen me when I was running a bigger restaurant". Jandali told Simpson that he had once managed a popular Mediterranean restaurant in Silicon Valley. "Everybody used to come there," the Jobs biographer, Walter Isaacson, says Jandali told Simpson. "Even Steve Jobs used to eat there. Yeah, he was a great tipper".
In a taped interview aired on 60 Minutes, Jobs said: "When I was looking for my biological mother, obviously, you know, I was looking for my biological father at the same time, and I learned a little bit about him and I didn't like what I learned. I asked her (Mona) to not tell him that we ever met...not tell him anything about me." However, Jobs had gone to a restaurant owned by his father before unknowingly, and met him on several occasions.
- I grew up as an only child, with a single mother. Because we were poor and because I knew my father had emigrated from Syria, I imagined he looked like Omar Sharif. I hoped he would be rich and kind and would come into our lives (and our not yet furnished apartment) and help us. Later, after I’d met my father, I tried to believe he’d changed his number and left no forwarding address because he was an idealistic revolutionary, plotting a new world for the Arab people. Even as a feminist, my whole life I’d been waiting for a man to love, who could love me. For decades, I’d thought that man would be my father. When I was 25, I met that man and he was my brother.
Marriage and family
In 1993, Simpson married the television writer and producer Richard Appel, and they had two children together, Gabriel and Grace. Appel, a writer for The Simpsons, used his wife's name for Homer Simpson's mother, beginning with the episode "Mother Simpson". They later divorced and Simpson currently lives in Santa Monica with her two children.
- 1986, Whiting Prize
- 1987, Hodder Fellowship (Princeton University)
- 1988, Guggenheim Fellowship
- 1995, Lila Wallace Readers Digest Fellowship
- 2001, Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize
- 2001, Finalist: PEN/Faulkner award
- 2008, Literature Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters
- Anywhere But Here (1986) ISBN 0-394-55283-0
- The Lost Father (1992) ISBN 0-394-58916-5
- A Regular Guy (1996) ISBN 0-679-45091-2
- Off Keck Road (2000) ISBN 0-375-41010-4
- My Hollywood (2010) ISBN 978-0-307-27352-9
- Meer, Ameena (1987). "Mona Simpson". BOMB. Retrieved 2010-02-26.
- Wendy Soderburg, "UCLA author’s latest novel: A young mother, her nanny and hard choices", UCLA Today, Aug 05, 2010
- "Mona Simpson". Bard College. Retrieved 2011-10-10.
- A Sister’s Eulogy for Steve Jobs
- Behrendt, Andy. "Apple Computer mogul's roots tied to Green Bay". Green Bay Press Gazette.
- Apple’s Visionary Redefined Digital Age
- "Driving Jane" by Lisa Brennan-Jobs. Originally published in The Harvard Advocate, Spring 1999, Lisa Brennan-Jobs official website
- Lohr, Steve (January 12, 1997). "Creating Jobs". The New York Times. Retrieved October 27, 2007.
- Meer, Ameena. "Mona Simpson Interview" BOMB Magazine Summer, 1987. Retrieved May 17, 2013.
- Knopf Biography
- Stacey D'Erasmo, "Life Is What Happens to Other People", The New York Times, 12 November 2000, accessed 24 October 2011
- Liesl Schillinger, Review: "For Love and Money", The New York Times, 8 August 2010, accessed 24 October 2011
- "Book World: Mona Simpson's "My Hollywood," reviewed by Ron Charles", The Washington Post, 18 August 2010, accessed 24 October 2011
- "Steve Jobs and biological father unknowingly met, biographer says", CBS News
- Burciu, Andrea (2010-03-11). "Author Mona Simpson reads from newest novel on campus". The Hofstra Chronicle. Retrieved 2010-03-12.
- Charles R. Loebbaka (2009-05-05). "Noted English Scholar, Author Alfred Appel Dies at Age 75". Northwestern University. Retrieved 2010-02-13.
- Appel, Richard (2005). The Simpsons season 6 DVD commentary for the episode "Mother Simpson" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- Mona Simpson:About
- GRANTA: Mona Simpson
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