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Susan Orlean

Susan Orlean
Susan Orlean at the 2011 Texas Book Festival.
Born Susan Orlean
(1955-10-31) October 31, 1955
Cleveland, Ohio, United States
Occupation Author, Journalist
Nationality American
Education University of Michigan
Spouse Peter Sistrom (1983–?)
John William Gillespie, Jr. (2001–)[1]
Children Austin Gillespie

Susan Orlean (born October 31, 1955) is an American 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.

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 life 1
  • Career 2
  • Select bibliography 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5

Personal life

Orlean was born in Cleveland, Ohio, the daughter of Edith (née Gross) 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.[2][3]

She graduated from the University of Michigan, 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.[4]


She later went on publishing 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, 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 1998). The 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). She recently published a biographical history about the dog actor Rin Tin Tin.

Orlean was also a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University in 2003. Orlean received an honorary doctorate degree from the University of Michigan at the spring commencement ceremony in 2012. She was given a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2014.[5]

Select bibliography



  • Orlean, Susan (28 September 2009). "Popular Chronicles: The It Bird".  
  • Orlean, Susan (1998). "Life's Swell". Women's Outside. 
  • Orlean, Susan (December 1992). "The American Male at Age Ten".  


  • Animalish (Kindle Single) (2011)


  1. ^
  2. ^ Susan Orlean's parents marriage certificate retrieved 3/20/2015
  3. ^ [2] Arthur Orlean obituary
  4. ^ weddings - Gillespie and Orlean
  5. ^ Guggenheim Fellows announced accessed 3/20/2015

External links

  • Susan Orlean Official Website
  • interview
  • New Yorker contributor page for Susan Orlean
  • Susan Orlean articles at Byliner
  • Susan Orlean discusses Rin Tin Tin on The Lit Show
  • 2011 radio interview at The Bat Segundo Show
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