Peter Matthiessen Dies at 86

Author of The Snow Leopard and regular Outside contributor

Peter Matthiessen at the Miami Book Fair in 1991.     Photo: MDCarchives/Wikimedia

Peter Matthiessen, a novelist and naturalist, died Saturday at the age of 86 from leukemia. A three-time winner of the National Book Award, co-founder of The Paris Review, and contributor to Outside, Matthiessen's writing often illuminated the grand and tragic aspects of nature.

"There's an elegiac quality in watching [American wilderness] go, because it's our own myth, the American frontier, that's deteriorating before our eyes," he once wrote.

"I feel a deep sorrow that my kids will never get to see what I've seen, and their kids will see nothing; there's a deep sadness whenever I look at nature now."

Matthiessen traveled extensively for his writing, roving through India (for Outside), Africa, and even the Himalayas in his widely acclaimed book The Snow Leopard. He is the only writer to win the National Book Award for both fiction and nonfiction, though he favored his fiction. "Fiction is my first love, and that's the way I began," he told NPR. "And frankly, when I began nonfiction, I did it for money."

Despite his motivations, Matthiessen's nonfiction, as he quoted Albert Camus, spoke for those who could not speak for themselves and had a lasting impact.

"I can hardly point to a victory that we ever won as conservationists that hasn't been overturned," he told NPR. "But we won some, too—there were long-lasting victories. And if nothing else, we stalled—stalled them off, the developers and exploiters."

His latest work, In Paradise, will be released Tuesday.

We'll be expanding Matthiessen's Outside archive in the coming days.

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