Special Guest Speaker

Susan Orlean

New York Times bestselling author Susan Orlean has been called “a national treasure” by the Washington Post and “a latter-day Tocqueville” by the New York Times. Her deeply moving explorations of American stories both familiar and obscure have earned her a reputation as one of America’s most distinctive journalistic voices. A staff writer for The New Yorker for over twenty years and a former contributing editor at Rolling Stone and Vogue, she has been praised as “an exceptional essayist” (Publishers Weekly) and a writer who “approaches her subjects with intense curiosity and fairness” (Bookmarks).


Orlean is fascinated by tales of every stripe. Her profiles and interviews for The New Yorker have covered such wide-ranging subjects as Jean Paul Gaultier’s design inspiration, urban chicken farming, the friends and neighbors of Tonya Harding, the contemporary painter responsible for capturing “the art in the Wonder Bread,” and the World Taxidermy Championships. Her Esquire piece “The American Man, Age 10” has been taught in classrooms across the country. From the everyday to the outlandish, she has an eye for the moving, the hilarious, and the surprising.


Orlean’s work has inspired two successful films: Blue Crush, the story of young women surfing in Maui, and Adaptation, the metafilm directed by Spike Jonze. Meryl Streep, who portrayed Orlean in the film, was nominated for an Academy Award, as were costars Nicholas Cage and Chris Cooper and writer Charlie Kaufman. Orlean was also the host, with actress Sarah Thyre, of the podcast Crybabies, a series of candid conversations with creative guests about the books, music, TV, and movies that make them cry. She currently hosts the podcast Book Exploder, a miniseries from Song Exploder and part of Radiotopia. Orlean served as Rogers Communications Chair in Literary Journalism at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity in Alberta, Canada. In 2022, her work on the HBO show How To With John Wilson earned her an Emmy nom for Outstanding Writing For A Nonfiction Program.


In a career spanning more than three decades, Orlean has also written for Outside, Esquire, The Boston Globe, and more.  Orlean has served as an editor for Best American Essays and Best American Travel Writing, and her journalism has been compiled into 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. Currently, she writes the Afterword column for The New Yorker, an obituary column that pays homage to people, places, and things we have lost. She is at work on a memoir.