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Susan Orlean and Saïd Sayrafiezadeh


In the age of Twitter, our writing seems to be getting shorter. As bitty book reviews and shrunken short stories begin to dominate, a recent Granta event celebrated the long-form art of creative nonfiction. Granta American editor John Freeman hosted the reading at the Soho House in Manhattan, leading a conversation between authors Susan Orlean and Saïd Sayrafiezadeh. The evening focused on the difficult task of turning personal narratives into book-length projects.

‘I think everybody who has written a magazine piece and is going to turn it into a book has this delusional moment where they think, “Oh, my God, this is going to be so easy. I basically already wrote it”’, laughed Orlean, a journalist and bestselling author. For The New Yorker, she wrote a literary essay about exploring Florida swamps with a rare-flower expert. A few years later, the essay became the foundation for her bestselling book, The Orchid Thief, and inspired the film, Adaptation. Despite all her long-form work, Orlean maintains a Twitter page.

Sayrafiezadeh had a darker experience. In 2005, he wrote an essay for Granta 91, ‘When Skateboards Will Be Free’, about his tumultuous relationship with his father. Last week, Dial Press published his memoir of the same title, built from the frame of his Granta essay. ‘My father hasn’t spoken to me since the Granta piece came out,’ he confessed at the reading. He recently captured those complex feelings in an essay for, ‘Keeping it in the Family’.

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