Simpson Literary Project


Simpson/Joyce Carol Oates Prize

The Simpson/Joyce Carol Oates Prize is named in honor of our dear friends, Sharon and the late Barclay Simpson, in tandem with the iconic author, and our colleague, Joyce Carol Oates. For two years Joyce served as Simpson Project Writer-in-Residence at the Lafayette Library and Learning Center, as well as a leading member of the Project Committee. In this way, the Project gratefully acknowledges her inspiring lifelong impact as a teacher and writer without peer, someone who shares wholeheartedly our most deeply held commitments to literature and literacy, and a writer beloved for generations by legions of students, writers, and readers around the country and the world.

Previously known as the Simpson Family Literary Prize, The Simpson/Joyce Carol Oates Prize recognizes annually a mid-career writer of fiction who has earned a distinguished reputation and the approbation and gratitude of readers. The Prize Recipient is an emerged and continually emerging author of major consequence—short stories and/or novels—at the relatively middle stage of a burgeoning career and receives a $50,000 award to encourage and support forthcoming work. There is an application process and an anonymous jury selects the recipient. The Prize is administered by the Simpson Project, which deeply, humbly appreciates the trust of many generous individuals as well as altruistic family foundations and corporate donors who subscribe to our vision and sustain our multifaceted programs.


2019 ShortLIST


Laila Lalami—2019 Recipient of the Simpson/Joyce Carol Oates Prize

Read the 2019 Prize Announcement press release.

Photo by April Rocha

Photo by April Rocha

Laila Lalami was born in Rabat and educated in Morocco, Great Britain, and the United States. She is the author of the novels Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, which was a finalist for the Oregon Book Award; Secret Son, which was on the Orange Prize longlist; and The Moor’s Account, which won the American Book Award, the Arab American Book Award, and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award. It was on the Man Booker Prize longlist and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Her essays and opinion pieces have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Washington PostThe NationHarper’s, the Guardian, and the New York Times. She writes the “Between the Lines” column for The Nation magazine and is a critic-at-large for the Los Angeles Times. The recipient of a British Council Fellowship, a Fulbright Fellowship, and a Guggenheim Fellowship, she is currently a professor of creative writing at the University of California at Riverside. Her new novel, The Other Americans, will be published by Pantheon in March 2019. You can pre-order it on IndieBound and Amazon.

I’m thrilled to receive the Simpson/Joyce Carol Oates Prize and honored to be in the esteemed company of the other finalists. This award is a wonderful gift of time, which I will use to work on my next project, a book of nonfiction about the relationship between the citizen and the state, exploring the ways in which it can be undermined by race, gender, and national origin. This is a book I have been writing for a while, but it feels especially pressing at this particular moment in American history. I look forward to meeting members of the Berkeley English Department and the Lafayette Library and Learning Center, and to discussing our shared passion for storytelling.
— Laila Lalami

“Laila Lalami is a writer of exquisite gifts—lyric, mythic, gritty and trenchant in her vision of America.  Whether her storytelling is boldly surreal or intimately confiding, it is always compelling. The Moor’s Account is a magical achievement.”
– Joyce Carol Oates

“It requires the genius of Laila Lalami to take news ripped from 16th-century headlines and tell in The Moor’s Account a rollicking, urgent, whip-smart tale that moves readers in the 21st. The author of several magnificently accomplished works of fiction, including her just-published novel The Other Americans, as well as stylish and powerful essays and opinion pieces, she stood out even in the most distinguished company of the immensely talented Finalists. Ms. Lalami brilliantly guides us through the labyrinth of the past, and she illuminates the shadowy stories of our lives here and now, wherever and whoever we are. That is why the Simpson Project looks forward to celebrating her and her magisterial writing with our communities at the Lafayette Library and Learning Center and the University of California, Berkeley—and indeed with the whole Bay Area and beyond.”
– Joseph Di Prisco, Chair, Simpson Literary Project

“Nowadays, even as we face a multiplicity of stern parochialisms, Laila Lalami’s powerful novel The Other Americans reminds us that—in this country built on the backs of slaves and immigrants—we all of us in our solitude, whether we know it or not, are profoundly informed by the dreamscapes (the joys and sorrows), the desires and beliefs of people we might very well regard as Other. Put simply, The Other Americans is a poignant and moving paean to the inexorability of global and social interconnectedness.”
Erroll McDonald, Vice President & Executive Editor, The Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

“Laila Lalami is a consummate story teller whose work broadens and deepens our notion of the American voice. Her novels portray the immigrant experience across centuries, combining that heart-wrenching history with tender personal intimacies that resonate universally and reveal once again the redemptive powers of storytelling. These are remarkable achievements by a writer whose groundbreaking work will be read for decades.”
– David Wood, Simpson Project Committee, Teacher at Northgate High School, Walnut Creek, California

“Laila Lalami is a pure wonder. She is a world-class writer and an inspired choice to succeed our previous Prize Recipients, T. Geronimo Johnson and Anthony Marra. We take tremendous pleasure in planning to feature her throughout the year, and we fully expect that our diverse communities will warmly, and justifiably, welcome her into their hearts.”
– Beth Needel, Executive Director, Lafayette Library and Learning Center