Simpson Literary Project

Anthony Marra Essay January 2019

Simpson Family Literary Prize

Anthony Marra on his Year as a Simpson Prize Recipient


When Joe asked me to write a few words on how I’ve spent my year as the Simpson Prize recipient, I came to realize that I would make a terrible memoirist.

I don’t drink or smoke. I go to bed early enough that my mom, who lives on the East Coast, occasionally wakes me when she calls. I don’t have a car, and my usual rounds take me no farther than I can walk. Just about every morning and afternoon, weekdays and weekends, I go to the same two coffeeshops, order the same drink, and sit in the same seat and write. In October I went out of town for several days without telling the proprietor of my afternoon coffeeshop and she worried some terrible accident had befallen me. I say this not in complaint but in gratitude. At the end of a perfect week, I look back without remembering what happened on any particular day—not because nothing happened, but because I was doing the same thing every day: getting good writing done. Thanks to the Simpson Prize, I’m having a year of those days.

I’m hesitant to speak directly about my current project. Needless to say, the work is going very well.

Recently, I watched the BBC nature documentary Blue Planet II, an extraordinary series whose cast includes octopi armored in scavenged sea shells, sperm whales in vertical slumber, and bioluminescent creatures lighting the ocean floor miles below the last of the sun’s rays. Beneath the seemingly monotonous surface of the ocean is a depthless underworld teeming with life.

When asked, “What have you been up to?” I usually answer, “Not much,” because to any casual observer, I’m simply in my coffeeshops, working on the next page, writing these words. But to you, friend of the Simpson Literary Project, I will confess the truth: I’m swimming with the starfish and the sea anemones.

Read more about Anthony Marra, the 2018 Simpson Prize Recipient.