Named in 1974 to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Peter Matthiessen is a naturalist, novelist, Zen priest, and living legend. He has published more than twenty books of fiction and nonfiction over fifty years. His masterly fiction includes At Play in the Fields of the Lord (1965), a moral thriller about missionaries in South America; and Killing Mister Watson(1991), the first in a trilogy about a legendary Florida outlaw. His nonfiction is equally ambitious. In the Spirit of Crazy Horse (1983) examines the 1975 shoot-out between the FBI and Native Americans near Wounded Knee. But it is Matthiessen’s travel writing that established him as a consummate advocate for the natural world. In The Snow Leopard(1978), winner of the National Book Award, he writes lyrically of seeking both endangered creatures and spiritual fulfillment. He recounts in crystalline prose his treks through Africa and Antarctica in African Silences (1991) and End of the Earth (2003), while The Birds of Heaven(2001) promotes the protection of majestic cranes and the planet’s ecosystem.
Matthiessen was born in New York, the son of an architect and conservationist. He published his first story while at Yale, and after graduation moved to France where he co-founded The Paris Review with his friend, the late George Plimpton. He lives in Sag Harbor, New York.
Excerpt from End of the Earth: Voyages to AntarcticaAhead, the pack is broken by big chunks and pressure ridges forced upward by conflicting floes. On a disk of new ice banked by ridges, two emperor penguins raise long beaks to cry out to the heavens in the penguin manner, a lament too faint to be heard over the ship’s passage through rough ice. Then, abruptly, the hull grinds to a stop, and the sudden stillness troubles the birds more than its noisy progress. One flops forward, sledding on its belly to the other, where it stands up again, reassured by penguin company. Its companion, more stalwart, remains impassive, light flashing from the golden wash on its ivory breast…
To westward, from an icy peak where the sun’s low fireball irradiates the glaciers, comes an astonishing silver light that illuminates the sea ice plain with rainbow crystals. How beautiful and treacherous are turning floes with their fine cracks, and all the more so in this wind, when without warning they may slide apart, revealing the mysterious black water.
Selected WorkEnd of the Earth (2003) Tigers in the Snow (2000)African Silences (1991)The Snow Leopard (1978) At Play in the Fields of the Lord (1965)