Request Checked Items
University of Texas at Austin

Peter Matthiessen:

A Preliminary Inventory of His Papers at the Harry Ransom Center

Creator: Matthiessen, Peter, 1927-2014
Title: Peter Matthiessen Papers
Dates: 1925-2014 (bulk 1948-2014)
Extent: 227 document boxes, 37 oversize boxes (osb), 16 serials boxes (95.34 linear feet), 20 oversize folders (osf), 15 galley files (gf), 730 electronic files (46.6 GB)
Abstract: The papers of American author Peter Matthiessen document his sixty-year career as novelist, naturalist, explorer, nature writer, and environmentalist. The material includes drafts of Matthiessen’s fiction and non-fiction works, correspondence, and other personal and professional papers.
Call Number: Manuscript Collection MS-02721
Language: English with printed material in Czech, Danish, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Polish, Spanish, and Swedish
Access: Open for research. Researchers must create an online Research Account and agree to the Materials Use Policy before using archival materials. To request access to electronic files, please email Reference.
Use Policies: Ransom Center collections may contain material with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal or state right to privacy laws and regulations. Researchers are advised that the disclosure of certain information pertaining to identifiable living individuals represented in the collections without the consent of those individuals may have legal ramifications (e.g., a cause of action under common law for invasion of privacy may arise if facts concerning an individual's private life are published that would be deemed highly offensive to a reasonable person) for which the Ransom Center and The University of Texas at Austin assume no responsibility.
Restrictions on Use: Certain restrictions apply to the use of electronic files. Researchers must agree to the Materials Use Policy for Electronic Files before accessing them. Original computer disks and forensic disk images are restricted. Copying electronic files, including screenshots and printouts, is not permitted. Authorization for publication is given on behalf of the University of Texas as the owner of the collection and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder which must be obtained by the researcher. For more information please see the Ransom Center's Open Access and Use Policies.

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation: Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin. Peter Matthiessen Papers (Manuscript Collection MS-02721).
Acquisition: Purchase, 1995-2018 (95-10-012-P, 96-08-015-P, 98-10-017-P, 98-11-004-P, 03-09-003-P, 04-01-007-P, 08-04-011-P, 11-03-014-P, 15-08-020-P, 15-10-013-P, 17-01-004-P, 18-05-007-P)
Processed by: Liz Murray, 1996; Suzanne Casey and Liz Murray, 2000; Alex Jasinski and Liz Murray, 2004; Katy Hill, 2008; Ancelyn Krivak, 2022 Born digital materials processed, arranged, and described by Chance Adams and Brenna Edwards, 2015-2023.

Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin

Scope and Contents

The papers of American author Peter Matthiessen document his sixty-year career as novelist, naturalist, explorer, nature writer, and environmentalist. Virtually all of Matthiessen’s fiction and non-fiction works are represented, ranging from published books to magazine articles, contributions to the works of others, and unpublished manuscripts. The material includes drafts, galleys, page proofs, notebooks, scrapbooks, correspondence, printed material, clippings, legal documents, biographical material, artwork, slides, photographs, and electronic files. Thematically, Matthiessen’s papers document indigenous peoples and their causes, vanishing cultures and habitats, and the influence of Zen Buddhism in his life and writings.
The collection is organized into three series: I. Works, 1949-2014; II. Correspondence, 1925-2014; and III. Personal and Career-Related, 1940-2014.
Series I. Works is subdivided into three subseries: A. Books; B. Articles, Essays, and Other Writings; and C. Unpublished Works. Drafts of Matthiessen’s published fiction and nonfiction books are arranged by title under Subseries A. Correspondence, research material, publicity material, and reviews are present for many titles, in addition to material spanning the writing process, from handwritten notebooks, through successive drafts, to galley and proof pages. Material related to published excerpts, film and theater adaptations, and other related works is also filed under the title of the published work in this subseries. Works that are particularly well documented include Matthiessen’s final book, In Paradise (2014); the Watson trilogy, Killing Mr. Watson (1990), Lost Man’s River (1997), and Bone by Bone (1999); and Matthiessen’s one-volume revision of the Watson trilogy, Shadow Country, published in 2008.
Matthiessen’s hand-corrected drafts of In Paradise show how what began as a nonfiction account of his participation in three interfaith retreats at the site of Auschwitz (titled "Dancing at Auschwitz") gradually transformed into a novel about a group of fictional characters undergoing a similar experience. Some drafts are in the form of electronic files; they may duplicate draft printouts in the collection. Also present are a large volume of research materials about the Holocaust used by Matthiessen while writing the novel, as well as documentation of the Bearing Witness Retreats that Matthiessen attended at Auschwitz, led by his friend and teacher, Zen priest Bernie Glassman.
Shadow Country is a work with a unique writing process, which Matthiessen began by annotating paperback editions of the Watson trilogy and printing out old drafts of the trilogy to identify cuts, edits, and inserts for what would eventually be one 890-page draft incorporating all three of the original books. Consequently, many drafts, proof pages, and notes for the Watson trilogy are filed with materials for Shadow Country. Most of Matthiessen’s research material about Edgar Watson, the real-life sugarcane planter who inspired the trilogy, and the history of the Florida Everglades, is also filed here, although it is likely that some of it was originally collected for Killing Mr. Watson and then reused or added to during the composition of Shadow Country. Drafts, inserts, notes, correspondence with editors, and images of research and publicity materials for Shadow Country and the Watson trilogy are also present in the form of electronic files; many of these files are probably duplicated by manuscript material in the collection.
Research material collected for Matthiessen’s book In the Spirit of Crazy Horse (1983) is particularly voluminous and includes material about the book’s subject, Leonard Peltier, the Native American activist convicted of murdering two FBI agents; correspondence with Peltier; material about and correspondence with other Native American activists; and material about the American Indian Movement activist group. Some research material is present in the form of electronic files, including a set of court transcripts from Peltier’s 1977 trial. Additionally, a large volume of material documents the libel suits brought against Matthiessen’s publisher, Viking Press, by South Dakota governor William Janklow and FBI agent David Price because of statements made in the book, cases which were ultimately dismissed by the courts. Matthiessen continued to collect material about Peltier’s case and his repeated attempts to attain a pardon for a planned sequel that was never written; this material is filed with research material for the original book and for the 1991 edition, which contained a new epilogue describing Matthiessen’s meeting with an anonymous source, "Mister X."
Indian Country (1984) is another work for which Matthiessen collected extensive research material on Native Americans, including articles, theses, documentary reports, Supreme Court and other court rulings, published works, and correspondence. The book combines various short pieces previously published in magazines and newspapers with unpublished essays to examine issues of environmental justice and the exploitation of natural resources on Native American tribal lands. In order to maintain continuity with the arrangement of these materials in previous inventories, the original articles and materials related to them are cataloged in Subseries B. This is also generally the case for short stories that were collected in the volume On the River Styx (1989); the original published versions of these stories are cataloged by title in Subseries B. For all other books in Subseries A, related articles and excerpts are cataloged with the work rather than separately in Subseries B.
Subseries B comprises articles, essays, editorials, and letters to the editor, as well as short contributions to works by other authors, arranged by title. Drafts and published versions of these shorter pieces are, in some instances, accompanied by research material. In particular, the New Yorker article "Survival of the Hunter," about native whale hunters in Greenland, and Matthiessen’s essay "In the Great Country" for Subhankar Banerjee’s book of photographs Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: Seasons of Life and Land, are accompanied by a significant volume of research material on related topics. Drafts, notes, and correspondence with editors for some shorter works are present as electronic files. Some short pieces in this subseries and in Subseries C were labeled as possible inclusions for three anthologies Matthiessen considered publishing, tentatively titled Asian Days, Red and Blue Days, and Search for an Island. Those labels are noted in the Container List.
In addition to short works listed by title, this Subseries B also contains folders that collate various short works together by theme, including folders of articles on Native Americans and wildlife, and folders titled 'Environment and Politics Etc.' and 'Mini Bios/Encounters.' The container list provides a brief description of the materials within these complex groupings, rather than a comprehensive list of all the titles or pieces within these folders.
Unpublished works including screenplays, short stories, nonfiction works, novels, and poems are listed in Subseries C. The largest volume of material is a collection of notebooks, drafts, and research material for an unfinished novel about Bigfoot. Matthiessen’s interest in the possible existence of undiscovered hominoid creatures began during his journey through the Himalayas with naturalist George Schaller, chronicled in The Snow Leopard (1978), when he glimpsed a mysterious creature in the distance that he thought might have been one of the fabled Yeti. A few years later, Matthiessen traveled around the United States with Craig Carpenter, a self-identified Mohawk and advocate for Native American-derived spiritual beliefs, collecting Native American Bigfoot stories. Notebooks, notes, and drafts of writings related to these journeys are filed in this subseries, along with material on Bigfoot researchers and sightings, and legends from Native American tradition. Carpenter and Matthiessen’s visits to Native tribal lands are described in the book Indian Country, and some of the material Matthiessen collected from Native Americans in Florida was later reused while writing the Watson trilogy. Another group of materials in this subseries consists of drafts, notes, and biographical materials for an untitled memoir.
Series II. Correspondence includes letters from Matthiessen’s close friends Jim Harrison, Howard Norman, and William Styron. Other literary correspondents include Edward Abbey, Russell Banks, John Barth, Rick Bass, Don DeLillo, Annie Dillard, David James Duncan, Louise Erdrich, Amitav Ghosh, Graeme Gibson, Allen Ginsberg, Joseph Heller, John Irving, Barry Lopez, Norman Mailer, Thomas McGuane, W. S. Merwin, Stephen Mitchell, Naomi Shihab Nye, Doug Peacock, James Salter, Lawrence Shainberg, Gary Snyder, Terry Southern, Kurt Vonnegut, and Larry Woiwode. Naturalists George Archibald, Victor Emanuel, and George Schaller, archeologist Edmund Carpenter, President Bill Clinton, journalists Benjamin Bradlee and Peter Jennings, and actor Peter Coyote comprise just a few of Matthiessen’s many other notable correspondents. Correspondence with Leonard Peltier is also present in this series, in addition to the letters filed in Series I under In the Spirit of Crazy Horse. Series II also contains correspondence with other Native American activists, including Dennis Banks, Winona LaDuke, Janet McCloud, and Standing Deer Wilson. There is a small number of outgoing letters, and a significant volume of family correspondence.
Series III. Personal and Career-Related includes address books, notebooks, and planners; articles about Matthiessen, interviews, and reviews; awards; biographical and family material; collected material; material related to film projects; memorials and eulogies; photographs and artwork; material for public appearances; travel-related material; works about Matthiessen; and works by others. Awards-related materials including programs, certificates, and notes for speeches relate to the National Book Award (2008), an Honorary Doctorate from Yale University (2007) and the Lannan Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award (2002), among many other distinctions. Biographical and family material in this series overlaps to some degree with material collected for an untitled memoir found in Series I Subseries C, and includes Matthiessen’s own notes and writings about his work for the CIA in the early 1950s, as well as information about his ancestors and genealogical material on the Matthiessen family. Correspondence and notes about Matthiessen’s work for the CIA present in the form of electronic files likely duplicate material that is present in manuscript form.
Collected material in Series III chiefly consists of Matthiessen’s subject files on a wide variety of people and topics. The subject matter ranges from Matthiessen’s core areas of interest (Zen Buddhism, Native Americans, conservation and the environment), to favorite poems and quotations, to files of material collected about people Matthiessen knew or was acquainted with. The file on Petra Kelly and Gert Bastian contains clippings about and correspondence from the German Green Party founders, whom Matthiessen had met at an environmental conference in Mexico, one year before their death in a murder-suicide in 1992. Matthiessen’s notes from the conference are also in the file, along with material related to another conference attendee, Ukrainian physicist Vladimir Chernousenko, who supervised the cleanup of Chernobyl. Drafts of Matthiessen’s New York Times editorial on Chernousenko, "The Madman of Chernobyl," are located in the file on Kelly and Bastian.
The film projects represented in Series III range from documentaries about Matthiessen, to films that are derived from his work, to films that included some credited or uncredited contribution by Matthiessen. Notable in this group of materials is a screenplay draft for Werner Herzog’s film Fitzcarraldo annotated with Matthiessen’s notes, as well as correspondence from Herzog that discusses revisions to the screenplay and the extremely troubled production of the film on location in South America. Notebooks and journals in this series complement the many handwritten notebooks associated with specific works filed in Series I. They record Matthiessen’s travels to various foreign countries, observations of wildlife, his work experience at the United States Department of the Interior in 1965-1966, and even experimentation with drugs in the LSD Journal of 1968-1969.
Artwork found in the collection includes paintings of Matthiessen and drawings of him by Leonard Peltier. Photographs are arranged roughly by subject, with groups of family photographs, portraits of Matthiessen, travel photographs, and photographs of other subjects. Some travel photographs are present only in the form of electronic files. Photographs of Cesar Chavez include candid snapshots taken while Matthiessen was traveling with the Mexican American labor leader in California in the late 1960s, a period described in his book about Chavez, Sal Si Puedes. Material related to public appearances includes drafts of speeches, and printed materials and correspondence from benefits, conferences, lectures, memorials, readings, and seminars. A significant volume of drafts of speeches, eulogies, and dharma talks (Buddhist sermons) delivered by Matthiessen at Ocean Zendo are present in the form of electronic files and may not be duplicated elsewhere in the collection. Travel-related material in this series comprises collected material related to various trips that are not associated with any written work by Matthiessen. Works by other authors include numerous uncorrected proofs and galley pages, as well as an artist’s book by Robert Storter and Owl Ignores the Rumor of Mortality, a typescript of haiku poems composed by Howard Norman for Matthiessen’s 85th birthday.
Some material in the collection was heavily contaminated by mold when it arrived at the Ransom Center. This material was cleaned to remove mold spores and, in some cases, traces of insect debris. The container list indicates which folders contain material that was treated for mold contamination; mold odors remain on some manuscripts and patrons who are sensitive to mold may wish to wear a mask while examining this material in the Ransom Center’s Reading and Viewing Room. Additionally, an unusual form of damage is seen in one manuscript draft for Matthiessen’s novel Far Tortuga, where a bullet (housed with the manuscript) penetrated the pages along the margin.
An Index of Selected Correspondents at the end of this finding aid provides access to names of correspondents that are contained within folder descriptions or listed in dealer’s inventories that arrived with the collection. It is not intended to be a comprehensive list of correspondents within the collection. Additional unindexed correspondence to or from correspondents named on the list may be present in the collection.
This finding aid incorporates and supersedes three previously published preliminary inventories. In some instances, previously cataloged materials have been renumbered, but in order to preserve as much continuity as possible with previous inventories, folder-level descriptions from those inventories have mostly been preserved unchanged. Many folder descriptions correspond to, or use language from, dealer’s inventories that accompanied several of the larger accessions of collection material. For the most part the original organization imposed by the dealer at the folder level has been retained; although most of the original folders that housed materials have been discarded, folder titles are retained in the container list’s descriptions, where they are placed in single quotation marks.

Related Material

The Harry Ransom Center has numerous other collections that contain material related to Peter Matthiessen. The Peter Matthiessen Collection consists of correspondence, typescripts, and contracts related to various works including The Snow Leopard, In the Spirit of Crazy Horse, and At Play in the Fields of the Lord, as well as a set of polyester printing plates used in the publication of Men’s Lives. The Wendy Burden Collection of Peter Matthiessen Letters consists of letters from Matthiessen to Burden (now known as Wendy Morgan) written in the 1940s. Correspondence from Matthiessen is present in many other Ransom Center Collections, including the Ben Bradlee Papers, Norman Mailer Papers, James Jones Papers, Sanora Babb Papers, Don DeLillo Papers, and Marilyn Meeske Collection.
Several collections of authors within The Sowell Family Collection in Literature, Community and the Natural World at Texas Tech University Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library contain correspondence from and writings by Matthiessen, including those of Rick Bass, David James Duncan, Edward Hoagland, Barry Lopez, Howard Norman, and Pattiann Rogers.

Separated Material

The following materials were transferred for specialized housing or description:
178 books, 29 audiobooks, 13 published audio recordings, and 13 published video recordings were transferred to the Ransom Center Library.
61 personal effects were transferred to the Center’s Costume and Personal Effects Collection and are described separately in a database.
181 unpublished, non-commercial audio recordings were transferred to the Center's Sound Recordings Collection and are described separately in a database.
147 unpublished, non-commercial video recordings were transferred to the Center's Moving Image Collection and are described separately in a database.
325 computer disks were transferred to the Center’s Electronic Records Collection. 69 computer disks were imaged and are described in this inventory. 256 disks could not be imaged or read and remain uncataloged.

Container List

Audio and video withdrawals, 1994-2012, undated container 227.2   
Book withdrawals, 1966-2013, undated container 227.3-5   
Magazine withdrawals, 1973-2013 container 227.6   
Personal effects withdrawals, 1989 container 227.7   
Request entire container 227