Author Peter Matthiessen has died at the age of 86. He passed away on Saturday, April 5, 2014 in New York from acute myeloid leukemia. Matthiessen was an author, co-founder of The Paris Review, a political activist, a Buddhist teacher, priest, and for a short time he was a spy.
He authored 33 books of fiction and nonfiction. His first love was fiction but he was equally talented as a nonfiction writer. This amazed his nonfiction counterparts. Matthiessen is the only writer to receive the National Book Award for fiction (for Shadow Country) and General Nonfiction (for The Snow Leopard, which also won for Contemporary Thought).
Matthiessen was born into a wealthy family in Manhattan in 1926. He did a stint in the Navy then attended Yale where he began writing short stories. One of his professors recruited him into the CIA. His cover became The Paris Review. Even though The Paris Review was just supposed to aid in the undercover operation, it became one of the most important literary magazines of the 20th century. Matthiessen has stated that the job with the CIA was the job he hated the most. He said that his politics “veered to the left” and he began the hate the CIA.
He then became a conservation activist and wrote several books on conserving wildlife. He felt that many of his “wins” were overturned but he looked at it as positive because he felt that he had, at least, stalled the process of extinction. This view came from his deep faith in Zen Buddhism. He embraced the faith after his second wife died in 1972. He became a teacher and a priest. His book, The Snow Leopard, tells of his spiritual journey through Nepal.
Peter Matthiessen will be remembered for many things but his writing will be an infinite inspiration to writers and conservationists.