Peter Matthiessen

Literary Birthday – 22 May – Peter Matthiessen

Peter Matthiessen, was born 22 May 1927, and died 5 April 2014.


  1. I am a writer. A fiction writer who also writes non-fiction on behalf of social and environmental causes or journals about expeditions to wild places.
  2. By writing. I learned early that you can’t get there drunk or smoking dope or hanging about waiting for your muse. Starting each day is like priming the pump, in my experience; it’s plain hard labour, hunting the right way to express that thought that had seemed so penetrating, even beautiful, before you had to reduce it into words
  3. In fiction, you have a rough idea what’s coming up next – sometimes you even make a little outline – but in fact you don’t know. Each day is a whole new – and for me, a very invigorating – experience.
  4. I think in any writing you’re paying attention to detail.
  5. I’ve always thought that my real writing was the fiction, which seems odd, since I’ve done over twice as many non-fiction books as fiction books. Yet I really haven’t changed my view. Non-fiction usually involves research. One has to stick to the facts, piecing together a construction, it’s more like cabinet work or carpentry. Fiction is totally different, much more natural, more fun.
  6. But I have this idea that American writers, by and large, do weak work in their later years. I’d like to have the character to quit writing sooner rather than later.
  7. I’m a terrific rewriter. I polish and polish and polish and polish.
  8. If a book begins with some outside purpose or support system, it’s always a frail child.
  9. Non-fiction at its best is like fashioning a cabinet. It can be elegant and very beautiful but it can never be sculpture.
  10. Isn’t that the joy of fiction? To probe for fresh experience rather than perpetuate received wisdom?

Peter Matthiessen was an American novelist, naturalist, and wilderness writer. He was a co-founder of the The Paris Review and a three-time National Book Award winner. His novel, At Play in the Fields of the Lord, was adapted into the 1991 film of the same name.

Source for Image

Melissa Eagan, WNYC New York Public Radio, CC BY 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

 by Amanda Patterson

Please click here for our Literary Birthday Calendar

Posted on: 22nd May 2014