Peter Matthiessen Dies: Influential Writer And Environmentalist Dead At 86

Nathan Francis - Author

Oct. 21 2016, Updated 5:06 a.m. ET

Peter Matthiessen died Saturday at age 86, leaving behind a legacy as one of the most influential environmentalists and writers of a generation.

Matthiessen was seen as a heavyweight in the literary world, helping to found the influential magazine The Paris Review and winning a National Book Award for The Snow Leopard, his account of the Himalayas. He won another National Book Award for the novel Shadow Country.

His publisher, Geoff Kloske of Riverhead Books, said that Peter Mathiessen had been ill for some months after a leukemia diagnosis.

“He continued to fight gallantly to the end and was surrounded by his family,” said Peter’s son, Alex. “He was terrifically brave.”

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After his death, Peter was remembered for his influence both inside the literary world and beyond it. Matthiessen became friends with Cesar Chavez and wrote a defense of Indian activist Leonard Peltier that led to an eventually unsuccessful lawsuit by an FBI agent who claimed Matthiessen defamed him.

“Peter was a force of nature, relentlessly curious, persistent, demanding — of himself and others,” his literary agent, Neil Olson, said in a statement. “But he was also funny, deeply wise, and compassionate.”

Peter Matthiessen also took up Zen meditation during his life, a subject that plays a prominent role in his final work. In Paradise.

“Zen is really just a reminder to stay alive and to be awake,” he told the British newspaper The Guardian in 2002. “We tend to daydream all the time, speculating about the future and dwelling on the past. Zen practice is about appreciating your life in this moment. If you are truly aware of five minutes a day, then you are doing pretty well. We are beset by both the future and the past, and there is no reality apart from the here and now.”

Peter Matthiessen died at a hospital near his home in Long Island, New York. Though he may be gone, his work will live on — Matthiessen’s final novel, In Paradise, will be published on Tuesday by Riverhead Books.


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