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Adapting With Susan

Featuring Susan Orlean
Journalist, Author

March 5, 2019
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

The story

In Susan’s words:

What can I tell you? I am the product of a happy and relatively uneventful childhood in Cleveland, Ohio (back when the Indians were still a lousy team, and before they became a really good team and then again became a somewhat lousy team, although I have hope again…) This was followed by a happy and relatively squandered college career at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor (back when Ann Arbor hosted a Hash Bash every spring). I studied literature and history and always dreamed of being a writer, but had no idea of how you went about being a writer – or at least the kind of writer I wanted to be: someone who wrote long stories about interesting things, rather than news stories about short-lived events. There is no guidebook to becoming that kind of writer, so I assumed I’d end up doing something practical like going to law school, much as the thought of it made me cringe. After college, I moved to Portland, Oregon (back when Portland was cappucino-free) to kill some time before the inevitable trek to law school – and amazingly enough I lucked into a writing job at a tiny now-defunct monthly magazine. That led to a job at an alternative newsweekly in Portland where I wrote music reviews and feature pieces. While I was in Portland, Mt. St. Helens erupted; I started writing for Rolling Stone and the Village Voice; I learned to cross-country ski; I failed to learn how to cook.

I moved to Boston in 1982 (back before they built the Ted Williams Tunnel and long before the Red Sox reversed the curse). I wrote for the Boston Phoenix and the Boston Globe, and started work on my first book Saturday Night. Four years later I moved to New York. After moving to New York, I learned how to snowboard; wrote The Orchid Thief; became a staff writer at The New Yorker; got married; got a Welsh Springer Spaniel; learned how to order take-out food. These days I do some lecturing and some teaching, but most of the time I’m writing pieces for The New Yorker and occasionally for other magazines, and working on books. My latest project, a book about the Los Angeles Public Library and the arson fire there in 1986, will be published in October, 2018, by Simon and Schuster. Right now, I split my time between Los Angeles and the Hudson Valley of New York, with my husband, my son, and a small menagerie of animals.

Fun facts

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Susan has been a staff writer for The New Yorker since 1992, and has contributed articles to many magazines including Vogue, Rolling Stone, Esquire, and Outside.

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She also wrote the Women’s Outside article, “Life’s Swell”, which featured a group of young surfer girls in Maui, and behind the the basis of the film Blue Crush.

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She is best known as the author of the 1998 book The Orchid Thief, which was adapted into the 2002 film Adaptation.

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She is the author of eight books, including “The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup: My Encounters with Extraordinary People”; “My Kind of Place: Travel Stories from a Woman Who’s Been Everywhere”; “Red Sox and Bluefish”; “Saturday Night”; “The Orchid Thief”.

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Meryl Streep received an Academy Award nomination for her performance as Susan.

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Her Welsh Springer Spaniel is enjoys swimming, eating plastic, sitting on top of the newspaper when she’s reading it, and chicken.

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