May 22, 1927
New York, New York, United States
April 5, 2014
Sagaponack, New York, United States
PhotosView All (3)
American writer Peter Matthiessen chronicled nature and wildlife in over 30 books throughout his lifetime. His style mixed a lyrical structure with an unwavering intellectual prowess, best exemplified in his 1965 novel At Play in the Fields of the Lord and The Snow Leopard, his non-fiction book from 1978. An avid traveler, Matthiessen visited the furthest reaches of the globe throughout his life, which he often detailed in his writing, and continued publishing books up until his death. His final novel, In Paradise, was published on April 8, 2014, three days after Matthiessen died from leukemia at the age of 86. As one of the defining American literary figures of the second half of the twentieth century, Matthiessen's life and legacy will only reach further esteem as new generations of writers and readers discover his work.Born into a privileged New York family (he grew up in an apartment overlooking Central Park), Matthiessen' s love of nature and wildlife developed during his family's long stays in a country home in Connecticut. His love of the outdoors stayed with Matthiessen when he entered Yale. He majored in English while attending the university, and also studied zoology. After college Matthiessen moved to Paris, where he began working as a spy for the CIA. The secret organization paid Matthiessen to spy on Americans living in Paris, and as a result of his covert operations Matthiessen co-founded The Paris Review literary magazine, although his true intentions for the magazine were only revealed decades later. By the late 1950s Matthiessen began writing extensively about nature and his travels, and in 1965 he won acclaim for his novel At Play in the Field of the Lord. The book, about American missionaries and their rapturous encounters with a tribe of indigenous South American peoples, was later turned into a 1991 movie of the same name.Matthiessen's literary star continued to rise throughout the '70s and its ensuing decades. He won two National Book Awards for his 1978 book The Snow Leopard, and later won the 2008 National Book Award for Fiction for his 1500 page opus about frontier South Florida, Shadow Country. Matthiessen is the only writer to have ever won the prestigious award in both the fiction and nonfiction categories. An immensely prolific writer, having authored more than 30 books throughout his lifetime, Matthiessen continued publishing up until the day he died. His final novel, In Paradise, was published on April 8, 2014, three days after his death from leukemia. He was 86.