On this day in 2014, I had the great honor of interviewing the indomitable Peter Matthiessen for @lareviewofbooks. He’s one of my writing heroes. Far Tortuga shaped my early writing life as much as any book. I read the book to my mom while she was recovering from brain cancer & I have no doubt the haiku-like stillness & beauty of its fractured sentences helped guide us both through the swirling darkness.
Although we met for only a few hours, Peter’s enormity of spirit touched me in profound ways. He lived one of the last great epic lives, ushering in the environmental movement w/ his journalism, trailblazing a new genre of nonfiction, which could come to be called “new journalism,” training for over a decade to become a zen master, founding @parisreview while he was also employed as a CIA operative, & writing two of the most epic novels in our literature, Far Tortuga and Shadow Country. His account of a spiral into the darkness of the soul while searching for one of the earth’s most illusion creatures, published as The Snow Leopard, is necessary reading. It is hard to move through the world as a moral being w/o being touched by the work Peter Matthiessen did, the life he lived.
“I’ve always preferred being with people who are living on the edge of life,” he said when we talked that crisp, cold February morning in Sagaponack, surrounded by the peaty loams, near the crashing sea.