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Susan Orlean: Stranger Than Non-fiction

Listen to Susan Orlean: Stranger Than Non-fiction

Photo of Susan Orlean, sitting on a red chair in front of a red curtain, hands resting on her knees

Susan Orlean at the Athenaeum Theatre — Photo: Jon Tjhia

Susan Orlean writes, writes, writes. For readers of the New Yorker, she’s a must-read – a staff writer since 1992, now part of the furniture. She’s scattered a trail of bylines through Rolling Stone, the Village VoiceBoston GlobeEsquireVogue and more. The Spike Jonze film Adaptation was based on her bestselling book The Orchid Thief; Meryl Streep was nominated for an Oscar for her portrayal of the author.

At least part of Orlean’s charm lies in her genuinely omnivorous curiosity. ‘I’m perfectly happy knowing nothing about the subject,’ she explained in a Washington Post interview. ‘In fact, that’s usually much more appealing to me.’ Her features – and books – have covered umbrella inventors, orchid poachers, Twitter phenomenon @Horse_ebooks, backyard chickens. A ten-year-old boy. A German Shepherd that became a movie star. An obscure rock band called The Shaggs. Most recently, in The Library Book, she has written about the unsolved 1986 fire that engulfed the Los Angeles Public Library.

Over decades, she has taken readers into places their minds have never wandered – sometimes, to places right in front of them. For our Mayhem series, this giant of American non-fiction looks back on her legendary career, and its eclectic subjects, in conversation with Sarah Krasnostein.

Who?

Portrait of Susan Orlean

Susan Orlean

Hailed a 'national treasure' by the Washington Post, Susan Orlean is the acclaimed, bestselling author of Rin Tin Tin and The Orchid Thief, which was made into the Academy Award-winning film Adaptation

Portrait of Sarah Krasnostein

Sarah Krasnostein

Sarah Krasnostein is a writer and a lawyer with a doctorate in criminal law. She is admitted to legal practice in Australia and America. She is the best-selling author of The Trauma Cleaner which won the Victorian Prize for Literature, the Victorian Premier’s Award Prize for Non-Fiction, the Australian Book Industry Award for General Non-Fiction, the Dobbie Literary Award and jointly won the Douglas Stewart Prize for non-fiction at the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards. Krasnostein was longlisted for the Walkley Book Award and was shortlisted for the National Biography Award, the Melbourne Prize for Literature and the Wellcome Book Prize (UK).

Her work has appeared in a variety of publications and academic journals in Australia, the UK and America. Her latest book, The Believer: Encounters with love, death & faith was published in March 2020.

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