Susan Orlean• Studied English and history, wrote poetry, became attracted to non-fiction• Became staff writer for The New Yorker in 1992• Has written for Vogue, Esquire, Rolling Stone
The Orchid Thief• In 1994 Orlean read newspaper article about John Laroche, who was arrested for stealing orchids• Journalism from other journalism• Wrote article for The New Yorker which became a book and then inspired a film: Adaptation by the Kaufmans
The Orchid Thief• The article is not the most obvious of subjects• “…Orlean is known for her quirky stories about ordinary people who are not normally in the public eye or consciousness, but in whose very ordinariness Orlean finds something extraordinary.” (Boynton, 2005)• Could be a bit more subtle• She was attracted to bizarre combination of Seminole Indians, rare plants, swamp.
The Orchid Thief• Stories which do not tell themselves, leaving a lot of work for the writer.• This approach is clear in TOT in a number of ways: – The meta elements of the structure: the journalist is present as guide and we see the “discovery” of the buried story – Parts of the article are about Orlean, her aesthetic, her perceptions of Florida – Not a great deal more is learned in terms of facts in the New Yorker Piece: it is Orleans impressions which are central – Were it not for the writing and angle, the story teeters on dull
The Orchid Thief• Meta elements taken to new level by the film, as the orchid story becomes the ‘story within a story’ about writing• Is this because the real orchid story did not carry enough interest without Orlean’s writing? It’s possible, but the film loses the original quirkiness and gains Hollywood quirkiness typical of Kaufman
The Orchid Thief• Story would be nothing without character of Laroche: “I’m probably the smartest person I know.”• He is what we would call a character; he is anti- institutional. This is something that I always suspect, that the “life less ordinary” exists, and writing is important arena for elevating this.
The Orchid Thief• “There was one incident that was in the book, but I’d forgotten about it until recently. We were going to an orchid show, it was no big deal at all. Tickets to go to an orchid show are two dollars, it’s less than a movie. When we got there, Laroche thought it would only be interesting to go if we could somehow persuade the people who were selling the tickets that we should get the tickets for free. It really wasn’t worth the time, it was only a couple of dollars. There was no reason we should have gotten the tickets for free, but for him everything was a challenge. “How can I outwit the system.” “How can I sort of rub against the grain and make people think differently about something they thought was really very ordinary.” You should pay for your ticket, that’s the way that it is. “Well why should I pay for the ticket?” There’s sort of a constant agitation in him that made him very interesting. If he were just a simple crook, I don’t think the project would have been as enticing.” - S. Orlean, on J Laroche
The Orchid Thief• The article and book are really about passion. Orlean said in the book: “I suppose I have one un- embarassing passion. I want to know what it feels like to care about something passionately.”• The best fiction and non fiction makes us feel, and we go on this journey of passion with Susan Orlean
The Orchid Thief• So what can we gather from these things I have described about journalism, and Orlean’s approach?• We can see that in Orlean, The New Yorker has hired someone who discover and explore on behalf of readers, and who has the skill to design journeys with words.
The Orchid Thief• Is it objective? No. Creative literary journalism. The article and book would have been the lesser for objectivity since the subjectivity of the writer is so insightful.• Orlean seems to posit this humble curiosity as a single passion in her life which acts in place of other “real” passions, which others experience. This is a curious attitude – seeking and unsatisfied.
The Orchid Thief• She describes her attraction to characters like Laroche as a common yearning; most of us live life within the margins because it is safe but are eternally curious about those who took more risks. This is her creative angle.