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Susan Orlean may be the most popular female nonfiction writer alive, and she’s the last of a dying breed. Should glossy magazines continue to exist in the next few decades, it’s unlikely that their writers will share the cults of personality that trailed the every jot of Gay Talese, Terry Southern, and Chuck Klosterman—much less the gender-divide-crossing following of Orlean, who’s written for the New Yorker since 1992, produced several anthologies, and seen two stories adapted to the big screen. And unlike, say, the Beltway’s ever-expanding cast of child pundits, Orlean has earned her celebrity. Any given piece of hers, regardless of the subject matter, is readable all the way through, chock full of gloriously small observations, and clearly written. And as with the macho men who made magazine writing what it is today, Susan Orlean is bigger than her byline: Slight her (or the New Yorker) on Twitter, and she’ll eat your lunch.
ORLEAN READS WITH GEORGE SAUNDERS AT 7:30 P.M. AT THE FOLGER SHAKESPEARE LIBRARY, 201 E. CAPITOL ST. SE. $15. (202) 544-4600.