Peter Matthiessen was a friend and contemporary of Kurt Vonnegut and William Styron, but his writing career was amazingly different and very individual to him.
His career began as an expatriate writer and part-time spy in Paris (where he helped found The Paris Review) and ended as a Zen Monk in upstate New York.
He became most noted for writing nonfiction about nature and travel, but at considerable personal cost (financial and otherwise) he wrote about the plight of Native Americans (and specifically what could well be the most conspicuous injustice of 20th century America, the continuing incarceration of Leonard Peltier), and then about his Buddhist practice.
He also wrote novels, the form of writing that was most important to him. More than 30 books all told, in a long, rich and singular life that ended at the age of 86.
He left behind books that will be important for whatever uncertain future books may have. Personally I revere his The Snow Leopard (and its companion Nine-Headed Dragon River), In the Spirit of Crazy Horse (and its companion Indian Country.) He writes beautifully of North American shorebirds in The Wind Birds and of Antarctica in End of the Earth. And the list goes on. I first became aware of him in college when I read parts of The Tree Where Man Was Born in the New Yorker. It was a daunting yet inspiring and instructive work in certain ways for a fledgling writer to read.
But he is such a unique writer that even the most ardent readers of some of his books may well be immune to others. Of his novels, I've read and admired Raditzer and especially At Play in the Fields of the Lord. But I have yet to yield to the charms of the Watson series of fictions he worked and reworked in recent years, including his National Book Award winning Shadow Country (which made him the only writing to win this award in both fiction and non-fiction.)
The official publication date of his latest and now last novel is this coming Tuesday. It's called In Paradise.
Here's his New York Times obituary. May he rest in peace. His work lives on.