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Author Peter Matthiessen Reflects on a Life in Words

Peter Matthiessen, a 2008 National Book Award winner, is best known as both a novelist and non-fiction writer, but he's also an environmental activist and American Indian rights advocate. Jeffrey Brown talks to the award-winning author of "Shadow Country."

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  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    On October 24th, 1910, a man named Edgar Watson was shot and killed by a group of his neighbors on Florida's southwest coast. He'd been a leading pioneer in the Everglades, a successful businessman, and almost certainly a murderer.

    In fact, much about the life and death of Watson is the stuff of myth and legend. It's also now the stuff of award-winning literature in "Shadow Country," a new rendering of the Watson legend, which recently won the National Book Award for Fiction.

    The author is Peter Matthiessen, whose long and distinguished career includes numerous novels and non-fiction that often explore vanishing cultures and far-flung landscapes.

    Welcome, and congratulations to you.

  • PETER MATTHIESSEN, Author:

    Good evening. Thanks.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    What drew you to this character? I read that you first heard of him as a young boy yourself.

  • PETER MATTHIESSEN:

    Well, I was probably about 17. I was traveling up the southwest coast of Florida with my dad. And he loved fishing. He had a boat. And he showed me on the marine chart Chatham River coming down from the Everglades on the southwest coast there.

    And he said, "Up that river, there's a house. It's the only house in the Everglades. And the man who owned it, I think his name was Watson. He was killed by his neighbors."

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    And that stayed with you?

  • PETER MATTHIESSEN:

    That stayed with me. He didn't know much else about it. And I, unfortunately, didn't get around to writing about it for about 50 years.

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