Abbey, Edward 1927–1989
Abbey, Edward 1927–1989
PERSONAL: Born January 29, 1927, in Home, PA; died of internal bleeding due to a circulatory disorder, March 14, 1989, in Oracle, AZ; buried in a desert in the southwestern United States; son of Paul Revere (a farmer) and Mildred (a teacher; maiden name, Postle-waite) Abbey; married Jean Schmechalon, August 5, 1950 (divorced, 1952); married Rita Deanin, November 20, 1952 (divorced, August 25, 1965); married Judith Pepper, 1965 (died, July 4, 1970); married Renee Dowling, February 10, 1974 (divorced, 1980); married Clarke Cartwright, May 5, 1982; children: (with Deanin) Joshua Nathanael, Aaron Paul; (with Pepper) Susannah Mildred; (with Cartwright) Rebecca Claire, Benjamin Cartwright. Education: University of New Mexico, B.A., 1951, M.A., 1956; attended University of Edinburgh. Politics: "Agrarian anarchist." Religion: Piute.
CAREER: Writer. Park ranger and fire lookout for National Park Service in the southwest United States, 1956–71; University of Arizona, Tuscon, teacher of creative writing, beginning 1981, became full professor, 1988. Military service: U.S. Army, 1945–46.
AWARDS, HONORS: Fulbright fellow, 1951–52; Wallace Stegner Creative Writing Fellowship, Stanford University, 1957; Western Heritage Award for Best Novel, 1963, for Fire on the Mountain; Guggenheim fellow, 1975; American Academy of Arts and Letters award, 1987 (declined).
Jonathan Troy, Dodd (New York, NY), 1956.
Fire on the Mountain, Dial (New York, NY), 1962.
Black Sun, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1971, published as Sunset Canyon, Talmy (London, England), 1972.
The Monkey Wrench Gang, Lippincott (Philadelphia, PA), 1975.
Good News, Dutton (New York, NY), 1980.
Confessions of a Barbarian (bound with Red Knife Valley by Jack Curtis), Capra (Santa Barbara, CA), 1986, revised edition published as Confessions of a Barbarian: Selections from the Journals of Edward Abbey, 1951–1989, edited and with an introduction by David Petersen, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1994.
The Fool's Progress, Holt (New York, NY), 1988.
Hayduke Lives!, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1990.
Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness, illustrated by Peter Parnall, McGraw (New York, NY), 1968, reprint published as Desert Solitaire, University of Arizona Press (Tucson, AZ), 1988.
Appalachian Wilderness: The Great Smoky Mountains, photographs by Eliot Porter, Dutton (New York, NY), 1970.
(With Philip Hyde) Slickrock: The Canyon Country of Southeast Utah, Sierra Club, 1971.
(With others) Cactus Country, Time-Life (New York, NY), 1973.
The Journey Home: Some Words in Defense of the American West, illustrated by Jim Stiles, Dutton (New York, NY), 1977.
Back Roads of Arizona, photographs by Earl Thol-lander, Northland Press, 1978, published as Arizona's Scenic Byways, 1992.
The Hidden Canyon: A River Journey, photographs by John Blaustein, Viking (New York, NY), 1978.
(With David Muench) Desert Images: An American Landscape, Chanticleer (New York, NY), 1979.
Abbey's Road: Take the Other, Dutton (New York, NY), 1979.
(Self-illustrated) Down the River, Dutton (New York, NY), 1982.
(With John Nichols) In Praise of Mountain Lions, Albuquerque Sierra Club (Albuquerque, NM), 1984.
Beyond the Wall: Essays from the Outside, Holt (New York, NY), 1984.
(Editor and illustrator) Slumgullion Stew: An Edward Abbey Reader, Dutton (New York, NY), 1984, published as The Best of Edward Abbey, Sierra Club Books (San Francisco, CA), 1988.
One Life at a Time, Please, Holt (New York, NY), 1988.
Vox Clamantis in Deserto: Some Notes from a Secret Journal, Rydal Press (Santa Fe, NM), 1989, published as A Voice Crying in the Wilderness: Essays from a Secret Journal, illustrated by Andrew Rush, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1990.
The Serpents of Paradise: A Reader, edited by John Macrae, Holt (New York, NY), 1995.
(Essayist) Thomas Miller, Desert Skin, University of Utah Press (Salt Lake City, UT), 1994.
Earth Apples: The Poetry of Edward Abbey, collected and introduced by David Peterson, illustrated by Michael McCurdy, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1994.
Also author of introductions for books, including Walden, by Henry D. Thoreau, G.M. Smith (Salt Lake City, UT), 1981; Ecodefense: A Field Guide to Monkey-wrenching, edited by Dave Foreman, Ned Ludd Books, 1987; The Land of Little Rain, by Mary Austin, Viking (New York, NY), 1988; and Wilderness on the Rocks, by Howie Wolke, Ned Ludd Books, 1991. Contributor to books, including Utah Wilderness Photography: An Exhibition, Utah Arts Council, 1978; Images from the Great West, edited by Marnie Walker Gaede, Chaco Press (La Cañada, CA), 1990; Late Harvest: Rural American Writing, edited by David R. Pichaske, Paragon House (New York, NY), 1991; and The Best of Outside: The First 20 Years, Vintage Departures (New York, NY), 1998. A collection of Abbey's manuscripts is housed at the University of Arizona, Tucson.
SIDELIGHTS: Edward Abbey was best known for his hard-hitting, frequently bitter, and usually irreverent defense of the world's wilderness areas. Anarchistic and outspoken, he was called everything from America's crankiest citizen to the godfather of modern environmental activism. Abbey himself strenuously resisted any attempt to classify him as a naturalist, environmentalist, or anything else. "If a label is required," Burt A. Folkart quoted him as saying in the Los Angeles Times, "say that I am one who loves the unfenced country." His favorite places were the deserts and mountains of the American West, and the few people who won his respect were those who knew how to live on that land without spoiling it. The many targets of his venom ranged from government agencies and gigantic corporations responsible for the rape of the wild country, to cattle ranchers grazing their herds on public lands, to simple-minded tourists who, according to Abbey, defile the solitude with their very presence.
Born on a small farm in Appalachia, Abbey hitchhiked west in 1946, following one year of service in the U.S. Army. Captivated by the wide-open spaces of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah, he stayed there, studying philosophy and English at the University of New Mexico. His first novel, Jonathan Troy, shows the influence of the philosophical works he was reading in college, including the writings of William Godwin, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Karl Marx, and Michael Bakunin. Published in 1954, Jonathan Troy is the story of a self-involved young man who yearns to escape his Pennsylvania home for the open spaces of the West. He finally realizes his dream, but not without overcoming many problems first. The greatest difficulty is the loss of his anarchist father, Nat, who is wrongly killed by a rookie policeman. Jonathan's dreams are also imperiled by a shallow young woman who tries to trap him into marriage. He is threatened by his friendship with his English teacher, who reinforces in him his father's radical politics. Ultimately, Jonathan sees that life in the East has become impossible for him, and the story ends with him heading West, lured by the promise of a new way of life there. The novel is notable for its depiction of the conflict between wilderness and civilization, a theme that would always be central to Abbey's work. It is also distinguished by "Abbey's descriptions of an industrial wreckage visited on the Pennsylvania coal country," remarked an essayist for the Dictionary of Literary Biography. "These descriptions are important because they mark the first expressions of Abbey's environmental awareness. The dialogue is the weak element of the novel, particularly Jonathan's ponderous interior monologues."
Abbey's next novel, The Brave Cowboy, enjoyed somewhat greater success than Jonathan Troy—particularly after it was adapted into the film Lonely Are the Brave.
The novel features Jack Burns, a nineteenth-century-style cowboy whose rugged individualism has become anachronistic in modern New Mexico. Burns rides his horse into modern Duke City, intent on helping his friend Paul Bondi, a draft resister serving a jail term. Burns undertakes this rescue by getting arrested so that he will be imprisoned with Bondi. The plot twists when Bondi will not follow Burns into the night and to freedom. Burns then runs for Mexico, pursued by the authorities, in a compelling chase story that includes his bringing down a helicopter with a small-caliber rifle. In a similar story, Fire on the Mountain, Abbey explores the struggles of John Vogelin as he attempts to prevent the White Sands Missile Range from encroaching on his ranch land in southern New Mexico.
Desert Solitaire, published in 1968, is drawn from Abbey's experiences as a forest ranger and fire lookout. His first nonfiction work was also one of his greatest successes. Desert Solitaire opens with a truculent preface, in which the author expresses his hope that serious critics, librarians, and professors will intensely dislike his book. In the body of the book, which compresses many of Abbey's experiences with the Park Service and Forest Service into the framework of one cycle of the seasons, readers find both harsh criticism and poetic description, all related to the landscape of the West and what mankind is doing to it. Freeman Tilden, reviewing Desert Solitaire in National Parks, recommended the book, "vehemence, egotism, bad taste and all. Partly because we need angry young men to remind us that there is plenty we should be angry about…. Partly because Abbey is an artist with words. There are pages and pages of delicious prose, sometimes almost magical in their evocation of the desert scene…. How this man can write! But he can do more than write. His prehension of the natural environment—of raw nature—is so ingenuous, so implicit, that we wonder if the pre-Columbian aborigines didn't see their environment just that way."
In a review of Desert Solitaire for the New York Times Book Review, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Edwin Way Teale noted that Abbey's work as a park ranger brought him to the wilderness before the invasion of "the parked trailers, their windows blue tinged at night while the inmates, instead of watching the desert stars, watch TV and listen to the canned laughter of Hollywood." Calling the book "a voice crying in the wilderness, for the wilderness," Teale warned that it is also "rough, tough and combative. The author is a rebel, an eloquent loner. In his introduction, he gives fair warning that the reader may find his pages 'coarse, rude, bad-tempered, violently prejudiced.' But if they are all these, they are many things besides. His is a passionately felt, deeply poetic book. It has philosophy. It has humor. It has sincerity and conviction. It has its share of nerve tingling adventure in what he describes as a land of surprises, some of them terrible." Teale concluded: "Abbey writes with a deep undercurrent of bitterness. But as is not infrequently the case, the bitter man may be the one who cares enough to be bitter and he often is the one who says things that need to be said. In Desert Solitaire those things are set down in lean, racing prose, in a close-knit style of power and beauty. Rather than a balanced book, judicially examining in turn all sides, it is a forceful presentation of one side. And that side needs presenting. It is a side too rarely presented. There will always be others to voice the other side, the side of pressure and power and profit."
While it never made the best-seller lists, Desert Solitaire is credited as being a key source of inspiration for the environmental movement that was growing in the late 1960s. Abbey's no-holds-barred book awakened many readers to just how much damage was being done by government and business interests to so-called "public" lands, as did the many other essay collections he published throughout his career. But an even greater influence may have come from his 1975 novel, The Monkey Wrench Gang. Receiving virtually no promotion, it nonetheless became an underground classic, selling half a million copies. Within the comic story, which follows the misadventures of four environmentalist terrorists, is a serious message: peaceful protest is inadequate; the ecology movement must become radicalized. The ultimate goal of the Monkey Wrench Gang—blowing up the immense Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River—is one Abbey seemed to endorse, and his book provides fairly explicit instructions to anyone daring enough to carry it out. The novel is said to have inspired the formation of the real-life environmental group Earth First!, which impedes the progress of developers and loggers by tactics such as sabotaging bulldozers and booby-trapping trees with chainsaw-destroying spikes. Their term for such tactics: monkeywrenching.
National Observer reviewer Sheldon Frank called The Monkey Wrench Gang a "sad, hilarious, exuberant, vulgar fairy tale filled with long chase sequences and careful conspiratorial scheming. As in all fairy tales, the characters are pure cardboard, unbelievable in every respect. But they are delightful." A contributor to the London Times observed that the book is "less a work of fiction … than an incitement to environmentalists to take the law into their own hands, often by means of vandalizing whatever they considered to be themselves examples of vandalism and overkill."
The Monkey Wrench Gang is possibly Abbey's best-known work, but the author's personal favorite of his more than twenty books was the bulky, largely autobiographical novel The Fool's Progress. "From the outset of this cross-country story it seems almost impossible to separate Edward Abbey from his narrator," observed Howard Coale in the New York Times Book Review. "The harsh, humorous, damn-it-all voice of Henry Lightcap is identical to the voice in the author's many essays." In Coale's opinion, the book was too "self-involved" to be a really successful work of fiction, although it contained some excellent descriptive passages. Other commentators agreed that the book was flawed. John Skow wrote in Time, "Abbey … is feeling sorry for his hero and probably for himself too. What saves the book is that he is skilled enough to pull sympathetic readers into his own mood of regret." "Abbey is not for everybody," summarized Kerry Luft in his Chicago Tribune assessment. "He's about as subtle as a wrecking ball. Some might call him sexist or downright misogynistic and point out that his female characters tend to be shallow stereotypes. I can only agree. But for those readers with the gumption and the stomach to stay with him, Abbey is a delight."
Abbey's last act contributed to his legend as a rugged individualist. When he realized he was terminally ill, he left the care of his doctors and checked himself out of the hospital. Following instructions he had set down years earlier in his journal, his wife and friends took him into the desert so that he could die under the stars. After one night went by and he was still alive, Abbey was taken back to his cabin home until the end came. Then his body was taken back into the desert and buried illegally there in a secret location.
Shortly before his death, Abbey had completed a sequel to The Monkey Wrench Gang, titled Hayduke Lives! Published posthumously, Hayduke Lives! finds most of the cast of the earlier novel settled comfortably into middle-class lives, only to be galvanized into action again by the reappearance of their leader, thought to be long dead. Critical assessment of the sequel varied widely. Grace Lichtenstein, reviewing it in the Washington Post Book World, found "the entire theme of ecotage" to be "shopworn," while Chicago Tribune editor David E. Jones stated that "the fun-loving bawdi-ness [of the original] is still there, and the camaraderie and dedication," along with "an unexpected darker side."
Excerpts from Abbey's journals and a collection of his essays were also published posthumously. Confessions of a Barbarian: Selections from the Journals of Edward Abbey, 1951–1989 includes 368 pages from the writer's copious journals. His acid pen ranges over subjects such as aging, suicide, music, and literature. Assessing the book in Backpacker, Peter Lewis observed that Abbey proves his ability to "inspire and infuriate…. It's spirited stuff. Some of the highlights center around his closely observed, tack-sharp sketches of places he knew and loved. Abbey was as nimble as they come when summoning emotions surrounding a landscape, and the desert Southwest has had few who could better sing its praises." Roland Wulbert concurred in Booklist that Abbey is "both compelling and infuriating," and added, "His journals show that he didn't so much find a voice as mature the one he always had."
The Serpents of Paradise: A Reader is a collection of essays, travel pieces, and works of fiction by Abbey, organized to parallel events in Abbey's own life. His fiction is represented by excerpts from The Brave Cowboy, The Fool's Progress, and The Monkey Wrench Gang, while the nonfiction is drawn from Desert Solitaire and numerous other sources. The pieces here reveal Abbey as "a true independent, a self-declared extremist and 'desert mystic,'" as well as "a hell of a good writer," observed Donna Seaman in Booklist. "Irreverent about man and reverent toward nature, Abbey wielded his pen as a weapon in the battle for freedom and wilderness and against arrogance and greed." A Publishers Weekly reviewer commented that The Serpents of Paradise "makes for a splendid summary of his best work—though it does not slight his faults," which include "occasional outbursts of xenophobia and old-fashioned sexism," as well as "gleefully overweening destructive fantasies…. Anyone who doesn't already know his work will find this volume, culled from more than a dozen books of fiction and nonfiction, an addictive introduction."
Reflecting in the New York Times Book Review on Abbey's body of work, Edward Hoagland called him "the nonpareil 'nature writer' of recent decades." Hoagland went on: "He was uneven and self-indulgent as a writer and often scanted his talent by working too fast. But he had about him an authenticity that springs from the page and is beloved by a rising generation of readers." "Desert Solitaire stands among the towering works of American nature writing," stated Lichtenstein. "Abbey's polemic essays on such subjects as cattle subsidies and Mexican immigrants, scattered through a half-dozen volumes, remain so angry, so infuriating yet so relevant that they still provoke arguments among his followers. As for his outdoors explorations, no one wrote more melodic hymns to the red rocks and rivers of the Southwest; no one ever defended them with more elan. It is in those nonfiction odes to the wilderness, by turns cantankerous and lyrical … that Abbey lives, forever." Speaking for himself in the essay "A Writer's Credo," Abbey declared, "I write to entertain my friends and exasperate our enemies. I write to record the truth of our time as best I can see it. To investigate the comedy and tragedy of human relationships. To oppose, resist, and sabotage the contemporary drift toward a global technocratic police state, whatever its ideological coloration. I write to oppose injustice, to defy power, and to speak for the voiceless. I write to make a difference."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Abbey, Edward, Confessions of a Barbarian: Selections from the Journals of Edward Abbey, 1951–1989, edited by David Petersen, original drawings by Abbey, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1994.
Abbey, Edward, One Life at a Time, Holt (New York, NY), 1988.
Balassi, William, and others, editors, This Is about Vision: Interviews with Southwestern Writers, University of New Mexico Press (Albuquerque, NM), 1990.
Berry, Wendell, What Are People For?, North Point (San Francisco, CA), 1990.
Bishop, James, Jr., with Charles Bowden, Epitaph for a Desert Anarchist: The Life and Legacy of Edward Abbey, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1994.
Calahan, James M., Edward Abbey: A Life, University of Arizona Press (Tucson, AZ), 2001.
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 36, 1986, Volume 59, 1990.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 256: Twentieth-Century Western Writers, Third Series, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 2002.
Foreman, Dave, Confessions of an Eco-Warrior, Harmony Books (New York, NY), 1991.
Hafen, Lyman and Milo McCowan, Edward Abbey: An Interview at Pack Creek Ranch, Vinegar Tom (Santa FE, NM), 1991.
Hepworth, James, and Gregory McNamee, editors, Resist Much, Obey Little: Some Notes on Edward Abbey, Dream Garden (Salt Lake City, UT), 1985.
Loeffler, Jack, Adventures with Ed—A Portrait of Abbey, University of New Mexico Press (Albuquerque, NM), 2002.
McCann, Garth, Edward Abbey, Boise State University (Boise, ID), 1977.
Quigley, Peter, editor, Coyote in the Maze: Tracking Edward Abbey in a World of Words, University of Utah Press (Salt Lake City, UT), 1998.
Ronald, Ann, The New West of Edward Abbey, University of New Mexico Press (Albuquerque, NM), 1982.
St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2000.
Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives, Volume 2: 1986–1990, Scribner (New York, NY), 1999.
Stegner, Wallace, and Richard W. Etulain, Conversations with Wallace Stegner on Western History and Literature, revised edition, University of Utah Press (Salt Lake City, UT), 1990.
Albuquerque Journal, November 4, 2001, "Book Attempts to Release Edward Abbey from Myth," p. F8.
America, April 9, 2001, Thomas J. McCarthy, "The Ultimate Sanctum," p. 6.
Audubon, July, 1989, pp. 14, 16.
Backpacker, December, 1994, Peter Lewis, review of Confessions of a Barbarian, p. 115.
Best Sellers, June 15, 1971.
Booklist, August, 1994, John Mort, review of Earth Apples: The Poetry of Edward Abbey, p. 2018; September 15, 1994, Roland Wulbert, review of Confessions of a Barbarian, p. 100; March 1, 1995, Donna Seaman, review of The Serpents of Paradise: A Reader, p. 1173.
Canadian Dimension, May, 2001, Louis Proyect, "Lonely Are the Brave," p. 43.
Chicago Tribune, February 14, 1988, section 14, p. 3; November 29, 1988; March 15, 1989; February 12, 1990.
Chicago Tribune Book World, November 30, 1980, section 7, p. 5.
Christian Science Monitor, July 27, 1977.
Growth and Change, summer, 1995, Nathanael Dresser, "Cultivating Wilderness: The Place of Land in the Fiction of Ed Abbey and Wendell Berry," p. 350.
Harper's, August, 1971; February, 1988, pp. 42-44.
Library Journal, January 1, 1968; July, 1977; August, 1994, Frank Allen, review of Earth Apples: The Poetry of Edward Abbey, p. 90; September 1, 1994, Tim Markus, review of Confessions of a Barbarian, p. 181; February 15, 1995, Cathy Sabol, review of The Serpents of Paradise, p. 155.
Los Angeles Times, October 22, 1980.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, June 17, 1979; May 16, 1982, p. 1; November 29, 1987, p. 10; January 24, 1988, p. 12; May 15, 1988, p. 14; November 20, 1988, p. 3; September 2, 1989, p. 8; January 7, 1990, p. 1; March 26, 1995, p. 6.
Nation, May 1, 1982, pp. 533-535.
National Observer, September 6, 1975, p. 17.
National Parks, February, 1968, pp. 22-23.
National Review, August 10, 1984, pp. 48-49.
New Yorker, July 17, 1971.
New York Times, June 19, 1979; March 15, 1989; May 11, 1997, Lesley Hazleton, "Arguing with a Ghost in Yosemite," p. XX37; February 10, 2002, T. Cor-aghessan Boyle, "A Voice Griping in the Wilderness," p. 8; April 29, 2002, Blaine Harden, "A Friend, Not a Role Model: Remembering Edward Abbey, Who Loved Words, Women, Beer and the Desert," p. E1.
New York Times Book Review, January 28, 1968, p. 7; July 31, 1977, pp. 10-11; August 5, 1979, pp. 8, 21; December 14, 1980, p. 10; May 30, 1982, p. 6; April 15, 1984, p. 34; December 16, 1984, p. 27; February 28, 1988, p. 27; May 1, 1988; December 18, 1988, p. 22; May 7, 1989, Edward Hoagland, "Standing Tough in the Desert," pp. 44-45; February 4, 1990, p. 18; July 8, 1990, p. 28; January 27, 1991, p. 32; December 11, 1994, Tim Sandlin, review of Confessions of a Barbarian, p. 11; June 11, 1995, p. 18; March 17, 1996, p. 32.
Publishers Weekly, October 5, 1984, p. 85; August 12, 1988, p. 439; November 11, 1988, pp. 34-36; July 25, 1994, p. 44; September 12, 1994, p. 75; January 23, 1995, review of The Serpents of Paradise, p. 52.
Seattle Times, January 20, 2002, Anne Stephenson, "Straight-on Look at Writer Edward Abbey," p. J9.
Southwest Review, winter, 1976, pp. 108-111; winter, 1980, pp. 102-105.
Time, November 28, 1988, p. 98.
Washington Post, December 31, 1979; January 5, 1988.
Washington Post Book World, March 24, 1968; June 25, 1979; May 30, 1982, p. 3; April 1, 1984, p. 9; April 3, 1988, p. 12; December 31, 1989, p. 12; January 28, 1990, p. 5; April 1, 1990, p. 8; April 22, 1990, p. 12; June 10, 1990, p. 15.
Western American Literature, fall, 1966, pp. 197-207; May, 1989, pp. 37-43; May, 1993, Paul T. Bryant, "The Structure and Unity of Desert Solitaire," pp. 3-19.
Wilson Library Bulletin, March, 1994, Preston Hoffman, review of Hayduke Lives! (sound recording), p. 116.
Zephyr, April-May, 1999, interview with Edward Abbey.
Edward Abbey, http://www.abbeyweb.net/ (July 20, 2003).
Edward Abbey: A Voice in the Wilderness (documentary film), 1993.
Chicago Tribune, March 15, 1989.
Detroit Free Press, March 15, 1989.
Los Angeles Times, March 16, 1989; May 22, 1989.
New York Times, March 15, 1989.
Times (London), March 28, 1989.
Washington Post, March 17, 1989.