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Susan Orlean (born October 31, 1955) is a journalist and author. 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.

Susan Orlean
Orlean at the 2018 Texas Book Festival.
Orlean at the 2018 Texas Book Festival.
BornSusan Orlean
(1955-10-31) October 31, 1955 (age 64)
Cleveland, Ohio, United States
OccupationJournalist, author
EducationUniversity of Michigan
  • Peter Sistrom
    (m. 1983; div. 1999)
  • John William Gillespie, Jr.
    (m. 2001)
ChildrenAustin Gillespie

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.

Personal lifeEdit

Orlean was raised in Shaker Heights, Ohio,[2] the daughter of Edith (née Gross 1923-2016)[3] 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.[4][5]

She graduated from the University of Michigan with honors in 1976,[6] 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.[7]

She is also step-mother to John's son from his previous marriage, Jay Gillespie.[1]


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 became a New Yorker 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,[7] 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.[7]

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.[7]

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.[7] 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.[8] 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".[9] She collaborated on the adaption for television.[10]

Awards and honorsEdit

Orlean was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University in 2003. She received an honorary doctorate degree from the University of Michigan at the spring commencement ceremony in 2012. She was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2014.[11]



  • Saturday night. 1990.
  • The Orchid Thief (1998)
  • The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup: My Encounters with Extraordinary People (2001)
  • My Kind of Place: Travel Stories from a Woman Who's Been Everywhere (2004)
  • Animalish (Kindle Single) (2011)
  • Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend (2011)
  • The Floral Ghost (2016)
  • The Library Book (2018)

Essays and reportingEdit

  • "The American male at age ten". Esquire. December 1992.
  • "Life's Swell". Women's Outside. 1998.
  • "The It bird". Popular Chronicles. The New Yorker. 85 (30): 26–31. September 28, 2009.
  • "Walart". Onward and Upward with the Arts. The New Yorker. 89 (1): 46–50. February 11–18, 2013.[12]
  • "Man and machine : playing games on the internet". Popular Chronicles. The New Yorker. 89 (48): 33–39. February 10, 2014.[13]
  • "Growing Up in the Library". Personal History. The New Yorker. October 5, 2018.


  1. ^ a b Shattuck, Kathryn. "WEDDINGS: VOW; Susan Orlean, John Gillespie Jr". Retrieved 23 July 2018.
  2. ^ Orlean, Susan (5 October 2018). "Growing Up in the Library: Learning and relearning what it means to have a book on borrowed time". The New Yorker. Retrieved 27 October 2018.
  3. ^ Edith Orlean Obituary accessed 10/30/2016
  4. ^ Susan Orlean's parents marriage certificate retrieved 3/20/2015
  5. ^ [1] Arthur Orlean obituary
  6. ^ USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences
  7. ^ a b c d e Haldeman, Peter (April 12, 2019). "Havens: Susan Orlean and R.M. Schindler, a love story in two chapters". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved April 13, 2019.
  8. ^ Kellogg, Carolyn (October 11, 2018). "Who started the 1986 fire at the Los Angeles Library? Susan Orlean investigates in her new book". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2019-04-13.
  9. ^ Alter, Alexandra (September 22, 2019). "It's a Fact: Mistakes Are Embarrassing the Publishing Industry". The New York Times. Retrieved 25 September 2019.
  10. ^ Schaub, Michael (April 2, 2019). "Susan Orlean's book about 1986 L.A. library fire headed to television". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2019-04-13.
  11. ^ Guggenheim Fellows announced accessed 3/20/2015
  12. ^ Brendan O'Connell.
  13. ^ Online version is titled "The surreal comedy of internet art".

External linksEdit