Texas Monthly Talks

Susan Orlean

Susan Orlean


Notes from Evan Smith

"If you read The New Yorker — and if you’re watching this show, I’d take the spread — you surely know this week’s guest, the extraordinary Susan Orlean, who’s been one of that rightly venerated magazine’s staff writers since 1992. Her off-kilter stories are written with high energy and a distinct voice and empathy for the quirky protagonists she gleefully introduces to all of us each week — or more accurately, whenever her stories appear, which is never frequently enough. Over the years she’s profiled some folks you’ve heard of, from the designer Bill Blass to the sixties girl group The Shaggs, but her specialty is people who are famous in their world but not necessarily in ours, or maybe not famous at all; one of the best things she’s ever published, to my mind, is a profile of Colin Duffy of Glen Ridge, New Jersey, that tells you everything you’d ever want or need to know about the life of an average ten-year-old boy. Orlean herself was born in Cleveland, studied history and literature at the University of Michigan, and spent her early years as a writer in Portland, Oregon, where she wrote features on a variety of subjects along with music reviews. From there she became a contributor to Rolling Stone, the Village Voice, the Boston Globe, and the Boston Phoenix, eventually landing her gig at The New Yorker. Her most famous magazine piece, about an orchid thief in South Florida, became a book called, yes, The Orchid Thief, and then was the inspiration for a film called Adaptation — if nothing else, Orlean can put on her tombstone the fact that Meryl Streep played a character loosely based on her on the big screen. There have been other Orlean books: Saturday Night, about the way different communities spend that most enjoyable weekend evening, and several collections of her writings, including the wonderfully named The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup. Her most recent effort is a charming children’s book, Lazy Little Loafers, that was likewise inspired by a New Yorker story, and she will soon release a long-awaited book about Rin Tin Tin — yes, that Rin Tin Tin, and you’ll be happy to know that Texas figures prominently in the narrative. "- Evan Smith, Texas Monthly Talks, Broadcast 11.20.08