Mona Simpson Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Although she has published several short stories, Mona Elizabeth Simpson is best known for her critically acclaimed novels. Her books are lengthy, lyrical explorations of the search for identity in America at the end of the twentieth century. Simpson’s narrators are lonely people, most often women, who as children were continuously betrayed by adults, physically and emotionally abused, and left to assemble an identity out of the fragments of their lives. Wounded and deprived of the rituals and processes of a daily family life, they survive by taking sometimes courageous, often desperate control of events: they steal, develop eating disorders, and put themselves at risk in dangerous situations and unfulfilling relationships.

Simpson, born to Syrian immigrants from Homs, grew up in Green Bay, Wisconsin, a landscape that figures prominently in her fiction. She received her B.A. from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1979 and an M.F.A. from Columbia University in 1983. Her fiction has been supported by several literary grants and awards, including the Whiting Writer’s Award, a National Endowment for the Arts grant, and a Guggenheim Fellowship, and by foundations such as the Corporation of Yaddo and the MacDowell Colony. Simpson was an editor at The Paris Review during the 1980’s. Beginning in 1988 she was a Bard Center Fellow and a teacher at Bard College. She has also spent time in New York and Los Angeles.

Simpson’s first two novels, Anywhere but Here and The Lost Father, share the same narrator, although they have different names. Anywhere but Here chronicles the journey west of Ann August and her mother, Adele August Diamond. Although the voices of Ann’s grandmother Lillian, her aunt Carol, and her mother are interspersed between Ann’s chapters, the daughter’s narrative makes up the bulk of the novel, and she is the central consciousness. In The Lost Father Mayan Atassi, a medical student at Columbia University, embarks on a search for her father who left home when she was a child. The shared histories of Ann August and Mayan Atassi, and their similar voices, let the reader know that she is the same person, each novel detailing a different part of her life and her family history.

Adele August Diamond is a selfish, narcissistic person who convinces her daughter Ann that she has the potential to be a child star. She uproots Ann from home...

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(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Mona Elizabeth Simpson was born in Green Bay, Wisconsin, on June 14, 1957. Her mother’s great-grandparents had emigrated from Germany in the nineteenth century and settled in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Her grandmother moved to Green Bay, where she and her husband raised mink and ran a photo engraving business and gas stations. Simpson’s father, originally from the Middle East, was a college professor; her mother was a speech therapist. As a child, Simpson attended the same school as the children of the Green Bay Packers. After her father abandoned the family, her mother moved to Beverly Hills, California, with Mona and her older brother.

Following graduation from Beverly Hills High School, Simpson earned a B.A. from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1979. She worked as a reporter for newspapers in the San Francisco area until 1981, when she won a scholarship to the graduate program in writing at Columbia University in New York City; there she earned an M.F.A. in 1983. She was accepted into Yaddo, the writers’ colony at Saratoga Springs, New York, where she was able to devote her time to writing. She married Richard Appel, a public prosecutor, who later became a writer for the television series The Simpsons; they would have a son, Gabriel. She taught a writing workshop in the graduate program at New York University, worked as a writing instructor at Bard College, and served as senior editor of The Paris Review.