Writer and environmentalist Peter Matthiessen died today at the age of 86; according to this story, he had been ill with leukemia. He was a wonderful writer and a compelling speaker; a strong voice for the preservation of the natural world, for justice and human rights.
Few authors could claim such a wide range of achievements. Matthiessen helped found The Paris Review, one of the most influential literary magazines, and won National Book Awards for "The Snow Leopard," his spiritual account of the Himalayas, and for the novel "Shadow Country." A leading environmentalist and wilderness writer, he embraced the best and worst that nature could bring him, whether trekking across the Himalayas, parrying sharks in Australia or enduring a hurricane in Antarctica.Though I always think of him as an environmental writer first and foremost, he was so much more. He started the Paris Review with George Plimpton, and wrote some significant fiction as well, including "At Play in the Fields of the Lord". I feel lucky to have heard him speak several times. Though he wrote on some weighty topics, he was a lively and entertaining speaker.
He also was a longtime liberal who befriended Cesar Chavez and wrote a defense of Indian activist Leonard Peltier, "In the Spirit of Crazy Horse," that led to a highly publicized, and unsuccessful, lawsuit by an FBI agent who claimed Matthiessen had defamed him.
(I keep coming back into this diary to edit and add some more, because he deserves more, but I can't really find the words to do him justice. For someone who was such a fine writer, you wouldn't want to remember him with sloppy prose. He was a hero of mine, and I think that's what's leaving me at a loss for words.)