Simpson Literary Project



2019 Simpson/Joyce Carol Oates Prize Winner Announced


Novelist Wins the Annual $50,000 Fiction Prize Recognizing Mid-Career Authors

Download the full press release (242 KB PDF)

LAFAYETTE, CA, April 2, 2019—Laila Lalami, the award-winning author of The Moor’s Account (Vintage) and The Other Americans (Pantheon), has been named the winner of the 2019 Simpson/Joyce Carol Oates Prize. 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 Literary 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.

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 the 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 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 own 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

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.

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

In response to being chosen as the winner, Laila Lalami remarks: “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 is 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.”

Lalami was selected from six shortlist finalists by an anonymous jury of authors confidentially nominated by distinguished critics, authors, professors, booksellers, book reviewers, and publishers from around the country. As the 2019 Simpson/Joyce Carol Oates Prize winner, she will appear in the Bay Area in October 2019 and later participate in 10-day residence in Lafayette and Berkeley, California, during the spring semester of 2020.

“Laila Lalami is a pure wonder,” said Beth Needel, Executive Director of the Lafayette Library and Learning Center Foundation. “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.”

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, CA)

Other authors in the Prize’s shortlist were Rachel Kushner, author of The Mars Room (Scribner), Valeria Luiselli, author of Lost Children Archive (Knopf), Sigrid Nunez, author of The Friend (Riverhead), Anne Raeff, author of Winter Kept Us Warm (Counterpoint), and Amor Towles, author of A Gentleman in Moscow (Viking). These authors will receive $2,000 each for being finalists in the 2019 Simpson/Joyce Carol Oates Prize.

The Simpson Literary Project, established in 2016, is an innovative private/public partnership between the University of California, Berkeley, English Department and the Lafayette Library and Learning Center Foundation, in association with the Contra Costa County Library. The Project fosters new literature, supports authors, and enhances the lives of readers, writers, educators, librarians, and students in diverse communities in California and the nation. The Project offers high-school age writers writing workshops at no cost, led by Simpson Fellows, UC Berkeley graduate student writers; this year four workshops take place at Contra Costa County Juvenile Hall (in the boy’s and girls’ wings), Girls Inc. of Alameda County, and Northgate High School. The Project also supports a Writer-in-Residence program at the Lafayette Library and Learning Center. In addition, the Project produces annually an anthology of Project-related artists, including younger writers appearing in print for the first time: Simpsonistas: Tales from the Simpson Literary Project (Rare Bird Books).

The eminent and celebrated Joyce Carol Oates is the current Simpson Literary Project Writer-in-Residence at the Lafayette Library and Learning Center. In addition, 2017 Simpson Literary Prize winner T. Geronimo Johnson, author of Welcome to Braggsville (HarperCollins), and 2018 Simpson Literary Prize winner Anthony Marra, author of The Tsar of Love and Techno (Hogarth), are expected to continue their efforts and engagements with the Simpson Literary Project.

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For more information, please contact Beth Needel at 925.283.6513 ext. 104 or email at

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