October 31, 1955
Cleveland, Ohio, United States
|Education||University of Michigan|
Susan Orlean (born October 31, 1955) is a journalist and bestselling author of The Orchid Thief and The Library Book. She 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 .
She is best known as the author of the 1998 book The Orchid Thief, which was adapted into the film Adaptation (2002). Meryl Streep received an Academy Award nomination for her performance as Orlean.
She later went on to publish stories in Rolling Stone, Esquire, Vogue, Outside and Spy. In 1982, she moved to Boston and became a staff writer for the Boston Phoenix and later a regular contributor to the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine.Her first book, Saturday Night, was published in 1990, shortly after she moved to New York and began writing for The New Yorker magazine. She started contributing to The New Yorker in 1987 and became a staff writer in 1992.
Orlean authored the book The Orchid Thief , a profile of Florida orchid grower, breeder and collector John Laroche. The book formed the basis of Charlie Kaufman's script for the Spike Jonze film Adaptation.Orlean (portrayed by Meryl Streep, who won a Golden Globe for the performance) was, in effect, made into a fictional character. The movie portrayed her as becoming Laroche's lover and partner in a drug production operation, in which orchids were processed into a psychoactive substance.
She also wrote the Women's Outside article "Life's Swell", published in 1998. That article, a feature on a group of young surfer girls in Maui, was the basis of the film Blue Crush .
In 1999, she co-wrote The Skinny: What Every Skinny Woman Knows About Dieting (And Won't Tell You!) under her married name, Susan Sistrom. Her previously published magazine stories have been compiled in two collections, The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup: My Encounters with Extraordinary People and My Kind of Place: Travel Stories from a Woman Who's Been Everywhere. She also served as editor for Best American Essays 2005 and Best American Travel Writing 2007. She contributed the Ohio chapter in State By State (2008), and in 2011 she published a biographical history of the dog actor Rin Tin Tin titled Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend.
When her son Austin had an assignment to interview a city employee, he chose a librarian and together they visited the Studio City branch of the Los Angeles Public Library system which reignited her own childhood passion for libraries.After an immersive project involving three years of research and two years of writing on the 1986 fire at the Los Angeles Central Library, The Library Book was released in October 2018. The book uses the context of the April 1986 fire to explore the role of the public library, who uses them, and the void created if they are lost. Orlean hired a fact-checker to ensure the book was accurate, explaining "I don't want a substantial error that changes the meaning of my book, but I also don't want silly errors". She collaborated on the adaption for television.
Orlean was raised in Shaker Heights, Ohio,the daughter of Edith (née Gross 1923–2016) and Arthur Orlean (1915–2007). She has a sister, Debra, and a brother, David. Her family is Jewish. Her mother's family is from Hungary and her father's family from Poland. Her father was an attorney and businessman.
She graduated from the University of Michigan with honors in 1976,studying literature and history. After college she moved to Portland, Oregon, and was planning on going to law school, when she began writing for the Willamette Week . She married lawyer Peter Sistrom in 1983, and they divorced after 16 years of marriage. She was introduced by a friend to author and businessman John Gillespie, whom she married in 2001, and she gave birth to their son Austin in 2004.
She is also step-mother to John's son from his previous marriage, Jay Gillespie.
Orlean was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University in 2004.She received an honorary Doctor of Human Letters degree from the University of Michigan at the spring commencement ceremony in 2012. She was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2014 in the "General Nonfiction" field of study. Orlean was the winner of the 7th Annual Shorty Awards in the Author category, which honors the best social and digital media.
Rin Tin Tin or Rin-Tin-Tin was a male German Shepherd born in Flirey, France, who became an international star in motion pictures. He was rescued from a World War I battlefield by an American soldier, Lee Duncan, who nicknamed him "Rinty". Duncan trained Rin Tin Tin and obtained silent film work for the dog. Rin Tin Tin was an immediate box-office success and went on to appear in 27 Hollywood films, gaining worldwide fame. Along with the earlier canine film star Strongheart, Rin Tin Tin was responsible for greatly increasing the popularity of German Shepherd dogs as family pets. The immense profitability of his films contributed to the success of Warner Bros. studios and helped advance the career of Darryl F. Zanuck from screenwriter to producer and studio executive.
Adaptation. is a 2002 American black comedy-drama film directed by Spike Jonze and written by Charlie Kaufman. It stars Nicolas Cage as Kaufman and his fictional twin brother Donald, Meryl Streep as Susan Orlean, and Chris Cooper as John Laroche, with Cara Seymour, Brian Cox, Tilda Swinton, Ron Livingston, and Maggie Gyllenhaal in supporting roles.
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The Orchid Thief is a 1998 non-fiction book by American journalist Susan Orlean, based on her investigation of the 1994 arrest of horticulturist John Laroche and a group of Seminoles in south Florida for poaching rare orchids in the Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve.
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Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend is a book by Susan Orlean published in 2011 by Simon & Schuster. It is a non-fiction account of Rin Tin Tin. Blogcritics praised the depth of the book and wrote that "It was fascinating to read about the 16 million animals deployed in World War I as scouts, messengers, carriers of medical supplies, and sentries. The insertion of the author’s personal reflections detracted from the more compelling story, but is a minor flaw in an otherwise extraordinary book." Alaska Dispatch put it in its "20 new nonfiction reads for fall", calling it "a must-read book that is both an excellent piece of cultural history and a remarkable story of the animal-human bond."
The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup: My Encounters with Extraordinary People is a collection of essays by Susan Orlean published in 2001 by Random House. It was her first book after her 1998 work The Orchid Thief.
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Olrean joined Brendan O'Meara on The Creative Nonfiction Podcast for Episode 61 to talk about the entrepreneurial nature of a writing career.