Abbey, Edward (1927-1989)

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Abbey, Edward (1927-1989)

Edward Abbey's essays and novels secured his position as a leading American environmentalist during the late 1960s through the 1980s. His nonconformist views, radical lifestyle, and revolutionary language created a cult following of fans whose philosophical outlooks developed from Abbey's books. He is the author of 21 full-length works, numerous periodical articles, and several introductions to others' books. With the exception of his first novel, all of Abbey's works have remained in print to the end of the twentieth century, a fact that attests to his continuing popularity. His writing has inspired readers to support ecological causes throughout America.

Abbey's father, a farmer, and his mother, a teacher, raised him on a small Appalachian farm in Home, Pennsylvania. When he was 18, Abbey served in the United States Army, and then in 1946 he hitchhiked west where he fell in love with the expansive nature of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. He studied philosophy and English at the University of New Mexico and the University of Edinburgh, earning a Master's Degree and pursuing his career as a writer. His first novel was poorly received, but in 1962 Abbey's second book, The Brave Cowboy (1958), was turned into a screenplay and released as a feature film, Lonely Are the Brave. From 1956 to 1971, to support himself and to enjoy the serenity of nature, Abbey worked for the Forest Service and the National Park Service. These early experiences provided subject matter for Desert Solitaire (1968), the book that catapulted him to the limelight of the growing environmental movement.

Desert Solitaire, and most of Abbey's subsequent works, assaulted the American government for its environmental policies while exalting the natural beauty of America's Southwest. Abbey became know as the "angry young man" of the environmental movement, a radical Thoreauvian figure whose adventures demonstrated the ful-fillment that an individual might gain from nature if a commitment to protecting it exists. In 1975, Abbey published The Monkey Wrench Gang, a novel about environmental terrorists whose revolutionary plots to restore original ecology include blowing up the Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River. Even though its publisher did not promote it, the book became a best seller, an underground classic that inspired the formation of the radical environmentalist group "Earth First!," whose policies reflect Abbey's ecological philosophy. The tactics Earth First! employs to prevent the development and deforestation of natural areas include sabotaging developers' chain saws and bulldozers, a practice that the group refers to as "monkeywrenching."

Abbey is the subject of a one-hour video documentary, Edward Abbey: A Voice in the Wilderness (1993), by Eric Temple which augments the continuing popularity of Abbey's writing. Abbey's novel, Fire on the Mountain (1962), was made into a motion picture in 1981. Quotations from his works have been imprinted on calendars throughout the 1990s. Devoted fans have created web pages to tell how Abbey's philosophy has influenced their lives. Even Abbey's death in 1989 has added to his legend; he is reportedly buried at a secret location in the Southwestern desert land that he praised. Though Abbey scoffed at the idea that his literature had the makings of American classics, his works and the personality they immortalized have remained a popular force in the environmental segment of American culture.

—Sharon Brown

Further Reading:

Abbey, Edward. One Life at a Time, Please. New York, H. Holt, 1988.

Bishop, James, Jr. Epitaph for a Desert Anarchist: The Life and Legacy of Edward Abbey. New York, Antheneum, 1994.

Foreman, Dave. Confessions of an Eco-Warrior. New York, Harmony Books, 1991.

McClintock, James. Nature's Kindred Spirits: Aldo Leopold, Joseph Wood Krutch, Edward Abbey, Annie Dillard, and Gary Snyder. Madison, University of Wisconsin Press, 1994.

Ronald, Ann. The New West of Edward Abbey. Albuquerque, University of New Mexico Press, 1982.

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Abbey, Edward (1927-1989)

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