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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.

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