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Peter Matthiessen

By

Peter Matthiessen

© Jesse Close

Birth:

Peter Matthiessen was born May 22, 1927, in New York City.

Peter Matthiessen's Background:

Born to a well-to-do New York family, Peter Matthiessen grew up in both New York City and Connecticut where, with his brother, he developed a love for animals that would go on to feed his work as a wildlife writer and naturalist. At Yale, Matthiessen, who majored in English and published short stories, also studied zoology. After graduation, he married and moved to Paris to study at the Sorbonne. While there, Matthiessen founded the Paris Review with Harold L. Humes and George Plimpton.


Matthiessen was divorced in the late 1950s and traveled extensively. In the early 1960s, he married again. He studied Zen and became a Zen priest. Matthiessen has written numerous works of fiction and nonfiction. He lives in Sag Harbor, NY.

Peter Matthiessen's Writing:

Peter Matthiessen's writing has centered around his various interests outside the literary world -- most notably travel, wildlife, and Native American studies. His books in these arenas have been seminal. Wildlife in America, written in the late 1950s in which Matthiessen follows the decline of many species of American wildlife, is credited with helping found the environmental movement in this country.


In the Spirit of Crazy Horse documents the American Indian Movement's struggles with the United States government and the FBI skirmish in the mid-1970s in which Leonard Peltier was convicted of murdering two FBI agents and sentenced to life in prison. Matthiessen and his publisher were sued for libel after the publication of In the Spirit of Crazy Horse, but after four years of litigation, the case was dropped.


The Snow Leopard, a book about an expedition into the Himalayas for which Matthiessen won a National Book Award, is a powerful spiritual memoir in which the author embraces Buddhism. Matthiessen's fiction is no less powerful. At Play in the Fields of the Lord (1965) is a morality tale of Americans stranded among Brazilian natives in the jungle. At Play in the Fields of the Lord was nominated for a National Book Award and was made into a movie in 1991.


In 2007, Matthiessen revised a trilogy of novels he wrote in the 1990s about infamous sugarcane farmer Edgar J. Watson into one epic work entitled Shadow Country, which won the 2008 National Book Award for fiction.

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