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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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    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.


    Good evening. Thanks.


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


    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."


    And that stayed with you?


    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.