Susan Levitt Stamberg was born September 7, 1938 in New Jersey and raised in New York City. She received a diploma from the High School of Music and Art in New York in 1955 and an A.B. from Barnard College in 1959. At Barnard, she majored in English Literature. After her graduation, she briefly attended graduate school at Brandeis University and then worked as a secretary and editorial assistant for Daedalus, the journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, in Boston, Massachusetts, eventually rising to the position of Publications Assistant. In 1962 she married Louis Stamberg, who worked for the State Department, and moved to Washington, DC.
Stamberg started her career as a broadcaster in January 1963 at WAMU 88.5 FM, Washington, DC, the public radio station of American University. Until January 1966 she served as the producer and program director for Kaleidoscope, a radio magazine airing on weeknights, and as the general manager for the entire station.
In February 1966 Louis Stamberg's career with the State Department took the couple to New Dehli, India. Susan Stamberg worked as the assistant to Mrs. Chester Bowles, the wife of the American Ambassador to India, as well as continuing as a broadcaster, both by sending special reports to WAMU and by serving as a writer, reporter, and broadcaster for Voice of America. The Stambergs returned from their term abroad in May, 1968 and Susan Stamberg resumed her work at WAMU. She served as the producer and host for Kaleidoscope until its cancellation as a nighttime program in December, 1969.
Stamberg's association with National Public Radio began with the network's inception in April, 1971, when she was hired as a part-time associate producer. In September, 1971 she replaced the regular host of All Things Considered, the network's premier news magazine, while he was on vacation. By 1972, Stamberg took over as the regular host of the show, becoming the first woman to regularly host a national news broadcast in the United States.
Although her cohosts changed several times, Stamberg remained a fixture on All Things Considered throughout the 1970s. However, in November 1980 she took a sabbatical of six months to write Every Night at Five: An All Things Considered Book, published by Pantheon in 1982. The book grew out of listeners' letters to National Public Radio and was originally intended to celebrate the tenth anniversary of All Things Considered. It chronicles the daily creation of the newsmagazine, its most popular broadcasts, and the activities of its listeners.
Stamberg continued to host All Things Considered until September, 1986, when she left the show to develop and host Weekend Edition Sunday. The magazine first aired in January, 1987 and was hosted by Stamberg until October, 1989. In the spring of 1989, Stamberg commissioned several authors to write serial pieces exploring the theme of a wedding cake in the middle of the road. The stories were then read by the authors on Weekend Edition Sunday, and from them developed The Wedding Cake in the Middle of the Road, a collection of short stories co-edited by Stamberg and George Garrett and published by W.W. Norton in 1992. Authors include Ann Beattie, Richard Bausch, Ron Carlson, Stuart Dybek, Marita Golden, Judith Guest, Pamela Houston, Brian Klam, David Leavitt, Bharati Mukherjee, Mary Lee Settle, Allen Wier, Joy Williams, Hannah Wilson, and George Garrett.
After Stamberg retired as host of Weekend Edition Sunday in 1989, she became the substitute host of Weekend Edition Saturday and served as special reporter on culture for all the other National Public Radio newsmagazines. Major reporting assignments during this period included a tour of Russia with the National Symphony Orchestra in September and October, 1993, inclusion in an art exhibit entitled "The Art of Work, the Work of Art," airing in April, 1995, a retrospective for the fiftieth anniversary of "A Streetcar Named Desire," airing in December 1997, and a profile of the Jewish community in China during World War II, airing in September 1990.
In 1993 Stamberg's second book, Talk, was published by Turtle Bay Press. It provides excerpts of interviews from 1971, Stamberg's first year on All Things Considered, to 1991. Interviewees include Robert Altman, John Erlichman, Margot Fonteyn, Garrison Keillor, David Mamet, Nadine Gordimer, Nancy Reagan, Dave Brubeck, Rosa Parks, James Baldwin, Jane Goodall, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, Annie Leibovitz, and Andre Dubus.
In addition to her work as a host of All Things Considered, Weekend Edition Sunday, and Weekend Edition Saturday, Stamberg also occupied many positions both in public and commercial radio and television broadcasting. In October, 1979 she served as the moderator of a National Public Radio call-in show with President Carter. In 1980 she served as a moderator for three Mr. Roger's Neighborhood television specials, entitled "Divorce," "Superheroes," and "Old Friends, New Friends." From 1984 to 1991 she served as a commentator on Capitol Edition, a show airing on WTOP (now WUSA), a CBS affiliate in Washington, DC. Stamberg also wrote several articles published in Continental Airlines Magazine and National Geographic Traveler and served as a board member of the American Institute of Architects. In 1986 she participated in a Jefferson Fellowship to Thailand, sponsored by the East-West Center.
Stamberg has won many awards throughout her career, including the Major Armstrong Award for Educational Broadcasting for Kaleidoscope at WAMU and the 1978 Clarion Award for a series of interviews with woman artists. She also received the DuPont Award from the Columbia University School of Journalism in February, 1984, the Edward R. Murrow Award from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in 1980, and the Distinguished Broadcaster Award from the American Women in Radio and Television in May 1990. She was chosen as one of fifty women to watch in the 1980s by Ms. Magazine in January 1980. Stamberg has received honorary degrees from Marlboro College, Knox College, Dartmouth College, State University of New York at Albany, and Rollins College, and is a Fellow of Silliman College, Yale University. She serves on the boards of the PEN/Faulkner Fiction Award Foundation and Columbia University's Medill School National Arts Journalism Program. Stamberg was inducted into the Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 1994 and the Radio Hall of Fame in 1996.