An Interview with Susan Orlean:
“The Nature of the Curious Mind”
Like many people, I
discovered Susan Orlean in
The New Yorker.
Time and again, I would be grabbed by an
interesting beginning and
find myself immersed in an article on a subject I thought I had no real interest in (show dogs, a
grocery store, a hair salon, a record store). Then I would look to see the author, and it would always be Susan Orlean. She is
able to make an amazing range of subjects compelling. It is a tribute to her storytelling ability that she is one of the rare
nonfiction writers whose work has been turned into movies (
The Orchid Thief
, “The Surf Girls of Maui”
She began as a writer after graduating from the University of Michigan, getting a job writing music reviews and
in Portland and also writing for national publications like
Subsequently she moved to Boston, writing for the
and then the
, where, as a cultural
outsider, she wrote a regular column about New England; these columns were collected in a now out-of-print book
and Bluefish: And Other Things That Make New England New England
(last time I looked it was
going for $134.80
and up on Amazon). She subsequently published a fascinating collection of stories of what Americans do on Saturday night,
Saturday Night, then moved to New York and became a staff writer for
The New Yorker.
While she primarily publishes in
The New Yorker
also occasionally writes for other magazines (like
In 1998 she published
her best known book,
The Orchid Thief.
A number of her magazine profiles were collected in
The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup : My Encounters with Extraordinary People.
And, more recently, her travel
writing has been collected in
My Kind of Place: Travel Stories from a Woman Who’s Been Everywhere.
I interviewed Susan Orlean at her beautiful Boston home. While she is probably my favorite non-fiction writer, I was
nonetheless surprised at how very knowledgeable and articulate she was about her own writing. Talking with her was for me
a Holden Caulfield experience: getting to talk with a favorite writer and finding the author just as good in person as on the
: I appreciate you talking to me because I know how busy you are with your new book,
My Kind of Place
and soon to be new baby and a deadline as well.
: Normally it wouldn’t be so much of an issue, but I’ve had a horrible time with this story that’s due
tomorrow. It’s finally rolling, but I’ve had a lot of trouble concentrating and I just suddenly went into a panic and
cancelled basically everything.