Author Mona Simpson reads from newest novel on campus

By Andrea Burciu
On March 11, 2010

Author Mona Simpson read excerpts from her upcoming novel, "My Hollywood," on Wednesday, March 10 the Guthart Cultural Center Theater. The novel, to be released in August, has two voices, that of a middle-aged Filipino nanny, Lola, and her Californian employer. Simpson manages to capture Lola's patois authentically through simple language and profound images. 

"My Hollywood" addresses the question of paid maternal love and the ambitions of a stay-at-home mom. It was inspired from Simpson's early years as a mother with a babysitter in Los Angeles. Unlike her other works, including "Anywhere But Here" which was made into a movie starring Natalie Portman and Susan Sarandon,

"My Hollywood" took ten years to complete. When asked by student writers about the drive to finish the novel despite the length of time, Mona quoted Oscar Wilde: "books are never finished, only abandoned." It was her strong attachment to the story and the character of Lola that drove her to finish, though Simpson admits it was both an easy and difficult novel for her to write.

Martha McPhee, a Creative Writing professor at the University, organized the event and also has a personal connection to Simpson. The two met when McPhee's father, a professor at Princeton who held the Hodder Fellowship there, invited Simpson to dinner. Simpson said she owes her cooking skills to the McPhee girls, and feels like an "honorary McPhee sister." McPhee stated that an invitation was extended to Simpson because "[Simpson] inspired me as a young writer to become a writer and I wanted to bring my inspiration to Hofstra."

The Great Writers, Great Readings series are set to "touch and lead students, and to give [young writers] courage by experience and history."

To better achieve this point, a question and answer session was given three hours before the reading. Students were able to get cozy on armchairs and couches in Hofstra Hall and ask questions, from advice on publishing, agents and book covers to writing tips such as how to create gripping characters and keep a writing schedule going. Simpson encouraged students to use school publications to get their work out there, just as she did as a student at Berkley.

The difficulties writers face, not only in terms of getting published, but also of the reception of their work was discussed. Publishing day, she says, is "the chance to be humiliated in front of everyone for something you love." Initially, Simpson was a poet and then changed to writing fiction because she felt she would make a better writer than poet. Her poetic beginnings are still evident in her attention to language in her novels.

Mona Simpson can boast of having a television show character named after her (Homer Simpson's mother), courtesy of ex-husband Richard Appel, a writer for "The Simpsons."  She is currently the Sadie Samuelson Levy Professor in Languages and Literature at Bard College.

Simpson's aim for her novels is "to write about true things that people experience but are never represented.


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