Susan Orlean

Fellow: Awarded 2014

Field of Study: General Nonfiction

Competition: US & Canada

Susan Orlean has examined subcultures, passions, and the textures of ordinary life through narrative stories so engaging that the Washington Post has described it as “a national treasure.”   Her essays have appeared in the New Yorker, where she has been a staff writer since 1992, as well as in Esquire, Smithsonian, New York Times Magazine, and Rolling Stone. Her first book, Saturday Night, about Saturday nights in eighteen diverse American communities, was published by Knopf in 1990. Her next book, The Orchid Thief (Random House, 2009), which chronicled the obsession of a Florida orchid hunter, was chosen by the New York Times as one of its Notable Books of the Year. It was the inspiration for the Academy Award–winning film, Adaptation, and is considered a classic of narrative nonfiction.  In 2011, Orlean published Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend (Simon & Schuster), an account of a puppy whose journey from a WWI battlefield to international stardom illustrates the American drive for reinvention, our spiritual bond with animals, and the quest for immortality. The book was awarded the Ohioana Book Award and the Theatre Library Association’s Richard Wall Memorial Award. Her current project, The Library Book, is a profile of the Los Angeles Public Library, the 1986 arson fire that almost destroyed it, and the future of libraries in the digital era. Orlean graduated with honors from the University of Michigan and was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University in 2003. In 2012 she was granted an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from the University of Michigan. She has lectured at Yale, New York University, UC Berkeley, University of Michigan, Breadloaf Writers Conference, Goucher College, and Harvard University, among others, and has been awarded residencies at the MacDowell Colony and at Yaddo. She has frequently served as a literary judge for competitions, including the National Book Awards, Bakeless Prize, Bellevue Literary Awards, and Iowa Review award. She currently lives in Los Angeles with her husband and son.