Susan Orlean is storied for her stories. Since 1992 she’s been a staff writer at The New Yorker, and her 1998 book “The Orchid Thief” was made into the movie Adaptation. She’s written seven other books and also for Esquire, Rolling Stone, Vogue and other publications.
We’ve annotated her famous essay “The American Man, Age 10,” explored why “Orchid Fever” is so good, and extolled her virtues as a storyteller multiple times.
It was a treat, then, when Orlean, a 2004 Nieman Fellow, visited Harvard to talk about her approach to reporting and writing. She was interviewed by Kim Tingley, a 2016 Nieman Fellow and contributing editor for The New York Times Magazine. What she had to say, about reporting, about writing, about interviewing, about craft, was so good that we decided to deviate from our normal five questions.
On masterful first sentences
Writing the story by talking about it
How to get 10-year-old American males to talk
Non-Fiction versus fiction
How to report open-ended stories (The Orchid Thief)
Creating your own voice
Are journalists con artists?
The seriousness of light-hearted topics
The advantage of being a female journalist
Her next book, on the LA public library
Why every journalist should be written about at least once
Watch the full conversation with Susan Orlean here.