Edward Abbey: Wilderness Writer and Explorer

A Plowboy Interview with Edward Abbey, a libertarian, an agrarian anarchist and a dedicated scofflaw, and author of Desert Solitaire.

| May/June 1984

While painting himself as “a libertarian, an agrarian anarchist, and a dedicated scofflaw”; Edward Abbey is described by others as an extraordinarily perceptive and talented writer, a freethinking philosopher, a concerned and outspoken environmentalist, an adventurer, teacher, and hardcase desert and river rat. Abbey is the author of six novels, including The Brave Cowboy (which was made into the Kirk Douglas movie Lonely Are the Brave ) and the “scofflawish” The Monkey Wrench Gang . He also has nine nonfiction books to his credit, the first of which—penned in the mid-1960's—was the pro-wilderness masterpiece Desert Solitaire . Mr. Abbey's writing credits are rounded out by scores of highly acclaimed essays evidencing a rare eloquence and a scorching satirical fire. And finally—bringing his acclaim closer to home—he was one of the top runners-up for MOTHER's 1983 Environmental Hall of Fame. 

Like many of those people who number among the West's staunchest supporters, Abbey was born in the East, spending his first 17 years in the Allegheny Mountains of Pennsylvania. He got his initial glimpse of the American West in 1944 while on a solo hitchhiking tour that took him to California and back. That trip was followed by two years of service with the U.S. Army in Italy during World War II. 

In the post-war 40's, our interview subject divided his time between attending the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque and roaming the Southwestern outback. Upon receiving his B.A. in 1951, Abbey returned to Europe—this time to Edinburgh, Scotland—on a Fulbright fellowship. Afterward, he headed back to UNM to continue his graduate studies. And in 1956, after writing a thesis entitledAnarchism and the Morality of Violence”; he received an M.A. in philosophy. 

His formal studies completed, Ed Abbey began his career as a working writer (in his own words, “I was one of those writers who had to work for a living”). For nearly two decades he would augment his writing Income by serving as a seasonal park ranger and fire watch at various wilderness outposts around the country, including Arches National Park, Utah; Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona; Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona; Glen Canyon National Recreation Area (Lake Powell), Utah; Grand Canyon National Park (North Rim), Arizona; Death Valley National Monument, California; and Glacier National Park, Montana. 

Over the course of his many years of work, travel, education, adventure and misadventure, Abbey cultivated an intense love for the wilder parts of America, especially the Four Corners area where Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah meet. Consequently—and though he has written about locales as geographically diverse as the Appalachian Mountains, Australia, Mexico, and Alaska—the bulk of his writing centers on the slickrock canyons, arid mesas, and cactus freckled deserts of the American Southwest. 

Today, at a robust 57, Ed Abbey makes his home near Oracle, Arizona, an hour's drive north of Tucson. It was there, in the northern reaches of the vast Sonoran Desert, that MOTHER's Associate Editor Dave Petersen (himself a transplanted Westerner) was fortunate enough to track down, interview, and photograph the reclusive desert rat and wilderness sage. 

10/13/2013 9:13:44 AM

Excellent interview. I have never really understood why Edward Abbey is held in such regard by environmentalists and those who care about the planet. This interview changes that. Thanks.

mother earth news fair 2018 schedule


Next: April 28-29, 2018
Asheville, NC

Whether you want to learn how to grow and raise your own food, build your own root cellar, or create a green dream home, come out and learn everything you need to know — and then some!