Matthiessen, Peter

Matthiessen, Peter

(măth`əsən), American writer, naturalist, and adventurer, b. New York City, grad. Yale (1950). A founder (1951) of the literary Paris Review, he published his first novel, Race Rock, in 1954. Best known of his early novels is At Play in the Fields of the Lord (1965, film 1991), the story of relations among tribes people, missionaries, and mercenaries that grew out of a trip to the South American jungle and his nonfiction book The Cloud Forest (1961). By the late 1950s he had begun his world travels, many undertaken for The New Yorker magazine. His wilderness wanderings took him to Asia, Australia, South America, Africa, New Guinea, and the Flordian swamps and under the sea. A longtime practitioner of Zen BuddhismZen Buddhism,
Buddhist sect of China and Japan. The name of the sect (Chin. Ch'an, Jap. Zen) derives from the Sanskrit dhyana [meditation]. In China the school early became known for making its central tenet the practice of meditation, rather than adherence
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, which profoundly influenced his thought and writings, he became a Buddhist priest in 1981. He wrote more than 30 novels and nonfiction works, many dealing with the degradation of the natural world. A trip (1972) to Nepal's Himalayas led to his most famous nonfiction work, The Snow Leopard (1978, National Book Award), a Zen-inflected tale of mourning and spiritual pilgrimage. Other nonfiction works include The Tree Where Man Was Born (1972), In the Spirit of Crazy Horse (1983), and End of the Earth: Voyage to Antarctica (2003). His novel trilogy, Killing Mister Watson (1990), Lost Man's River (1997), and Bone by Bone (1999), inspired by early 20th-century murders in the Everglades, was reworked as Shadow Country (2008, National Book Award). His last novel, In Paradise, tells of a Zen retreat held at Auschwitz.

Bibliography

See The Peter Matthiessen Reader (2000); biography by P. Dowie (1991); I. Oh, Peter Matthiessen and Ecological Imagination (2010); bibliography by W. Roberson (2001).

Matthiessen, Peter

(1927–  ) writer; born in New York City. He studied at the Sorbonne, Paris (1948–49), and at Yale (B.A. 1950). He was a cofounder of the Paris Review (1951) and continued as an editor for the periodical. Long resident in Sagaponack, Long Island, N.Y., he captained a charter fishing boat (1954–56), and was a member of numerous expeditions to Akaska, Canada, Peru, Nepal, East Africa, and New Guinea. His novels, At Play in the Fields of the Lord (1965) and Far Tortuga (1975), as well as short fiction, won critical acclaim, but he was best noted for his nonfiction work, such as The Snow Leopard (1978). In later years he became an eloquent spokesperson for saving the world's natural environments and wildlife.