Peter Matthiessen

Peter Matthiessen

: Photo from Wikimedia Commons / Author of Photo: Melissa Eagan, WNYC New York Public Radio


* Writer of novels, short stories, and nonfiction
* Zen teacher
* Wrote about nature, oppressed peoples, and vanishing cultures
* Lobbied President Clinton to pardon Leonard Peltier, who murdered two FBI agents in 1975
* Died on April 5, 2014

Born on May 22, 1927, Peter Matthiessen is writer of novels, short stories, and nonfiction. Primarily a nature writer, Mathiessen, who is a Zen Buddhist priest, also agitates for leftist change. Recurring themes in his books are vanishing cultures and oppressed peoples. His books In the Spirit of Crazy Horse (1983) and Indian Country (1984) condemn state and federal policies that Mathiessen believes are destroying Indian land and culture. In the Spirit of Crazy Horse focuses on the trial of Leonard Peltier, a member of the American Indian Movement (AIM) convicted of shooting two FBI agents at Pine Ridge Reservation in 1975. Matthiessen asked Bill Clinton to pardon Peltier during a private meeting with the President. Peltier’s case, along with that of fellow cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal, is a cause celebre on the Left. In 2004, the Peace and Freedom Party selected Peltier as its Presidential candidate.

On December 6, 1997, Matthiessen joined the “International Tribunal for Mumia [Abu Jamal].” The tribunal was organized by the Marxist group Refuse and Resist to “investigate the government’s conspiracy to silence, deny justice to and take the life of Abu-Jamal.” Refuse and Resist is the creation of C. Clark Kissinger, a member of the Revolutionary Communist Party, a Maoist sect. Kissinger also initiated the Not In Our Name antiwar project. Other co-endorsers of the Mumia tribunal included Peltier, Ramsey Clark, the National Lawyers Guild, Panthers United for Revolutionary Education, Jacques Derrida, Cornel West, Angela Davis, Medea Benjamin and Howard Zinn.

At Matthiessen’s suggestion, the Heinz Endowments gave a $10,000 grant to Medea Benjamin’s Global Exchange, an organization that takes citizens on tours of Potemkin villages in foreign lands to demonstrate the alleged evils of American foreign policy and the wonders of socialism. Teresa Heinz Kerry also honored his request to donate $1,000 to the Earth Island Institute. On September 14, 2001, the Institute’s website bore the headline “U.S. Responds to Terrorist Attacks with Self-Righteous Arrogance.”

Matthiessen wrote his first novel, Race Rock, in 1954 while living in Paris. While there, he co-founded the Paris Review and became its first fiction editor. He returned to the U.S. that same year and settled in Long Island, New York. His other published books include: Partisans (1955); Wildlife in America (1959); The Cloud Forest: A Chronicle of the South American Wilderness (1961); Raditzer (1961); Under the Mountain Wall (1962); At Play in the Fields of the Lord (1965); Far Tortuga (1974); The Snow Leopard (1978); Nine-Headed Dragon River, Zen Journals 1969–1982 (1986); Men’s Lives: The Surfmen and Baymen of the South Fork (1986); On the River Styx (1989); Killing Mister Watson (1990); Baikal: Sacred Sea of Siberia (1992); Shadows of Africa (1992); and East of Lo Monthang: In the Land of Mustang (1995).

Matthiessen died on April 5, 2014 in Sagaponack, New York.

Much of this profile is adapted from 57 Varieties of Radical Causes, published by Ben Johnson in September 2004.

© Copyright 2024,