Mona Simpson

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For the fictional cartoon character, see Mona Simpson (The Simpsons).
Mona Simpson
Mona Simpson
Simpson at the National Book Festival in January 2014
Born Mona Jandali[1]
(1957-06-14) June 14, 1957 (age 58)
Green Bay, Wisconsin, United States
Nationality American
Ethnicity Syrian-German
Education B.A. University of California, Berkeley
M.F.A.Columbia University
Occupation Novelist,
English professor
Notable work Anywhere But Here (1986)
The Lost Father (1992)
A Regular Guy (1996)
Spouse(s) Richard Appel (divorced)
  • Abdulfattah Jandali (father)
  • Joanne Schieble Simpson (mother)

Mona Elizabeth Simpson (born Mona Jandali; June 14, 1957)[1][2] is an American novelist and university professor. She has written six novels and 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.[3][4]

She won a Whiting Award 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 wrote a sequel, The Lost Father (1992). Critical recognition has included the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize and making the shortlist for the PEN/Faulkner Award for her novel Off Keck Road (2000).

Simpson is the biological younger sister of the late Apple Inc. co-founder Steve Jobs (who was born before their parents married and given up for adoption). Simpson was born after her parents had married and she did not meet Jobs until she was 25 years old.[5]

Childhood and family[edit]

"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."

—Mona Simpson[5]


Mona Jandali was born in 1957 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Her mother Joanne Carole Schieble, who is of German Catholic descent, grew up on a farm in Wisconsin.[6] Her father, Abdulfattah ‘John’ Jandali, was born in Homs, Syria in 1931.[7] He is the son of a self-made millionaire who did not go to college and a mother who was a traditional housewife.[7] Jandali was a student activist (and spent time in jail) while an undergraduate at the American University of Beirut.[7] Although he initially wanted to study law, he eventually decided to study economics and political science,[7] and pursued a Ph.D. in Political Science at the University of Wisconsin. It was there that he met Schieble[6][7] (Jandali was Schieble's teacher although both were the same age).[1]

Simpson notes that Schieble's parents were not happy with the relationship: "it wasn’t that he was Middle-Eastern so much as that he was a Muslim. But there are a lot of Arabs in Michigan and Wisconsin. So it’s not that unusual."[1] Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs' official biographer additionally states that Schieble's father "threatened to cut Joanne off completely" if she continued the relationship.[6] Regardless, while Jandali and Schieble were still unmarried students at the University of Wisconsin in 1954, she became pregnant after spending the summer with him and his family in Homs, Syria. Given her parents' resistance to the relationship, Shiebele decided to give the baby up for adoption. She traveled alone to San Francisco to work with a doctor who cared for unwed mothers and gave birth to a baby boy in 1955 (who was eventually adopted by a couple in San Francisco).[6] He would grow up to be Apple Inc. co-founder, Steve Jobs. Six months after giving the baby up for adoption, Schieble's father died. She thus wed Jandali and had Mona.[6][7]

Jandali states that after finishing his Ph.D., he returned to Syria to work and that it was during this period that Schieble left him[7] They divorced in 1962.[6] He also states that after the divorce, he lost contact with his daughter for a period of time: "I also bear the responsibility for being away from my daughter when she was four years old, as her mother divorced me when I went to Syria, but we got back in touch after 10 years. We lost touch again when her mother moved and I didn’t know where she was, but since 10 years ago we’ve been in constant contact and I see her three times a year. I organized a trip for her last year to visit Syria and Lebanon and she went with a relative from Florida."[7] A few years later, Schieble married an ice skating teacher, George Simpson. Mona Jandali took her stepfather's last name, thus becoming Mona Simpson. In 1970, after they divorced, Schieble took Mona to Los Angeles and raised her on her own.[6]

After Clara, Jobs' adoptive mother, died of lung cancer 1986, he met with Schieble (whom he had already found through an extensive search) for the first time. He then discovered that not only was Simpson his sister but that she also had no idea an older brother had been given up for adoption. Schieble then arranged for Jobs and Simpson to meet in New York where Simpson worked. She states that her first impression of Jobs was that “he was totally straightforward and lovely, just a normal and sweet guy."[6] Simpson and Jobs then went for a long walk in order to get to know each other.[6] Jobs later told his biographer that “Mona was not completely thrilled at first to have me in her life and have her mother so emotionally affectionate toward we got to know each other, we became really good friends and she is my family. I don’t know what I’d do without her. I can’t imagine a better sister. My adopted sister, Patty, and I were never close.”[6]

Jobs told his official biographer that after meeting Simpson, he wanted to become involved in her on going search for their father. When Jandali was found working in Sacramento, Jobs decided that only Simpson would meet him. Jandali and Simpson spoke for several hours at which point he told her that he had left teaching to join the restaurant business. He also said that he and Schieble had given another child away for adoption but that "we'll never see that baby again. That baby's gone." (Simpson did not mention that she had met Jobs).[6] Jandali further told Simpson that he once managed a Mediterranean restaurant near San Jose and that "all of the successful technology people used to come there. Even Steve Jobs... oh yeah, he used to come in, and he was a sweet guy, and a big tipper."[6] After hearing about the visit, Jobs recalled that "it was amazing... I had been to that restaurant a few times and I remember meeting the owner. He was Syrian. Balding. We shook hands."[6] However, Jobs did not want to meet Jandali because "I was a wealthy man by then, and I didn't trust him not to try to blackmail me or go to the press about it... I asked Mona not to tell him about me."[6] Jandali later discovered his relationship to Jobs through an online blog. He then contacted Simpson and asked "what is this thing about Steve Jobs?" Simpson told him that it was true and later commented, "My father is thoughtful and a beautiful storyteller, but he is very, very passive... he never contacted Steve."[6] Because Simpson, herself, researched her Syrian roots and began to meet members of the family, she assumed that Jobs would eventually want to meet their father, but he never did.[6] Jobs also never showed an interest in his Syrian heritage or the Middle East.[6] Simpson fictionalized the search for their father in the 1992 novel, The Lost Father. She would also create a fictional portrait of Jobs in the 1996 novel, A Regular Guy.[6]

Education and teaching[edit]

Simpson was a good student as a child but was also "a clown" and "a smart aleck who used to make jokes in class. I did get in trouble a lot when I was older and then I didn’t like school so much anymore."[1] She attended Beverly Hills High School[3] and received a scholarship to attend University of California, Berkeley where she studied poetry:"I stuck with poetry as long as I could — as far as my talent would take me."[3] After she finished her B.A. at Berkeley, she worked at a job during the days and worked as a journalist during the nights and on the weekends. She enjoyed journalism and hoped for a position with the Richmond Independent Gazette but did not receive it. She then attended graduate school at Columbia University and received her M.F.A from there. While a student at Columbia, she was an editor for Paris Review.[1][2]

In 1994, Simpson returned to Los Angeles area with her then-husband, Richard Appel.[3] In 2001, Simpson started teaching creative writing at UCLA; she also has an appointment at Bard College in New York state.[3]


Simpson at the Miami Book Fair International 2014

Simpson's novels are fictional and drawn from life experiences.[8][9] Her first novel, Anywhere But Here (1986), was a critical and popular success, winning a Whiting Award. 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.[10]

It was adapted as the 1999 film Anywhere But Here, starring Susan Sarandon and Natalie Portman.[11] Simpson published a sequel, The Lost Father (1992).

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.[8][9] 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 said, "'Off Keck Road' marks the place where origin leaves off and improvisation begins".[12]

My Hollywood was published in 2011. It explores the complex relationships, issues of class, and perspectives of two women, Claire, a European-American composer in her 30s and mother of one son, and Lola, her immigrant nanny from the Philippines. The nanny supports her own five children in the Philippines. 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."[13]

Ron Charles says:

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.[14]

Personal life[edit]

Simpson married the television writer and producer Richard Appel in 1993[15] and had two children, Gabriel and Grace.[16] Appel, a writer for The Simpsons, named the character Mona Simpson after his wife, beginning with the episode "Mother Simpson."[17] They later divorced.[2]




Short Stories[edit]

  • "Victory Mills". Granta (24 (Inside Intelligence)). Summer 1988.  (Subscription Required)
  • "Ramadan". Granta (37 (The Family Fiction)). Autumn 1991.  (Subscription Required)
  • "The Driving Child". Granta (54 (Best of Young American Novelists)). Summer 1996.  (Subscription Required)
  • "Holiday". Granta (128 (American Wild)). Autumn 2014.  (Subscription Required)



  1. ^ a b c d e f Meer, Ameena (Summer 1987). "Artists in Conversation: Mona Simpson". Bomb (magazine), Issue 20. Retrieved 2015-07-07. 
  2. ^ a b c d Mona Simpson Biography
  3. ^ a b c d e Soderburg, Wendy (2010-08-05). "UCLA author’s latest novel: A young mother, her nanny and hard choices". UCLA Today. Retrieved 2015-07-07. 
  4. ^ "BARD COLLEGE:FACULTY BIOGRAPHY-MONA SIMPSON". Bard College. Retrieved 2015-07-07. 
  5. ^ a b Simpson, Mona (October 30, 2011). "A Sister's Eulogy for Steve Jobs". The New York Times. Retrieved October 30, 2011. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Isaacson, Walter (2011). Steve Jobs. Simon & Schuster. p. ebook. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h "The ‘father of invention’". Saudi Gazette. January 18, 2011. Retrieved 2015-06-27. 
  8. ^ a b Lisa Brennan-Jobs, "Driving Jane", originally published in The Harvard Advocate, Spring 1999], hosted at Lisa Brennan-Jobs' official website
  9. ^ a b Lohr, Steve (January 12, 1997). "Creating Jobs". The New York Times. Retrieved October 27, 2007. 
  10. ^ Meer, Ameena. "Mona Simpson Interview", BOMB Magazine, Summer 1987. Retrieved May 17, 2013.
  11. ^ Knopf Biography
  12. ^ Stacey D'Erasmo, "Life Is What Happens to Other People", The New York Times, 12 November 2000, accessed 24 October 2011
  13. ^ Liesl Schillinger, Review: "For Love and Money", The New York Times, 8 August 2010, accessed 24 October 2011
  14. ^ "Book World: Mona Simpson's "My Hollywood," reviewed by Ron Charles", The Washington Post, 18 August 2010, accessed 24 October 2011
  15. ^ Burciu, Andrea (2010-03-11). "Author Mona Simpson reads from newest novel on campus". The Hofstra Chronicle. Retrieved 2010-03-12. 
  16. ^ Charles R. Loebbaka (2009-05-05). "Noted English Scholar, Author Alfred Appel Dies at Age 75". Northwestern University. Retrieved 2010-02-13. 
  17. ^ Appel, Richard (2005). The Simpsons season 6 DVD commentary for the episode "Mother Simpson" (DVD). 20th Century Fox. 
  18. ^ a b c d e f Mona Simpson:About
  19. ^ GRANTA: Mona Simpson

External links[edit]