Interview with Susan Orlean

Yaddo author Susan Orlean will talk further with Celia McGee at our FREE Zoom on July 14!  Here, they speak about Orlean’s The Library Book. The interview has been edited.

Celia McGee: What does Yaddo mean to you?

Susan Orlean: I would not have finished my last two books if it were not for residencies at Yaddo. I would wake up in the morning, have breakfast, and then work all day. It honestly was the turning point for me to get my books finished.

CM: That’s a real tribute to Yaddo. You’re now adapting The Library Book [for television]. Tell me how that’s going and what the process is like.

SO: It’s been a wonderful new experience for me. I’m working with a fantastic writing partner who is also a director, James Ponsoldt. Interestingly, one of his last films was The End of the Tour, about David Foster Wallace, which is an amazing movie. I’ve never seen this as a natural trajectory for me, but James approached me.  And in this era, a golden age of streaming television, the possibilities are really very appealing.

CM: Are they ever.

SO: Writing is so solitary. I sometimes feel like this is the one part of my job that I don’t like. Because I’m a very social person. And I love working with people and the feeling of being part of a team. By some weird twist of fate, I do a job that is extremely solitary most of the time. It’s really fun to brainstorm. It’s been a delight.

CM: How does it open, the pilot?

SO: It actually opens very much the way the book opens. The book opens with me describing Harry Peak, the man who was suspected of starting the fire. [A massive fire took place at the Los Angeles Central Library in 1986 and is the subject of The Library Book.]  And then moves to a scene of the day beginning, at the library.

CM: So very, very vivid.

SO: Oh, thank you! So much fun to write. The show begins with that lead, of the day beginning at the library. And the day that we begin with is the day of the fire. But in many ways the scene of the opening of the library is timeless. The gathering of people. The thing that’s so interesting about a library is that every person who comes is coming for a very individual reason. Whether it’s a scholar looking up something about Renaissance Italy, or a school kid. Or somebody doing genealogy, or a homeless person coming to sit somewhere warm and read the newspaper. There’s this gathering of incredibly different purposes all being served by the same place. We begin with trying to evoke that feeling, of a gathering of individual journeys.

RSVP for The Phantom Card Catalogue, with Susan Orlean and Celia McGee.

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