Edward Abbey

A polarizing author whose novels The Monkey Wrench Gang (1975) and Hayduke Lives (1990) have been cited as handbooks for the modern guerrilla environmentalist movement, Edward Abbey lived a life that rebelled against the establishment. Abbey was born on January 29, 1927 in Indiana, Pennsylvania to a school teacher mother and a socialist-atheist-anarchist father whose philosophy fueled his political leanings.

Taking to the road eight months before he turned 18, Abbey fell in love with the American Southwest, which he explored by bus and freight train, hitchhiking and on foot until he was required to register for the draft on his birthday. After a two year stint as a military police officer in Italy, Abbey took advantage of the G.I. Bill upon his return to the US and attended the University of New Mexico, receiving a B.A. in English and philosophy in 1951, and a master’s degree in philosophy in 1956. Abbey become deeply interested in the philosophy of anarchism, exploring it in both his work as an undergraduate writer/editor of the student newspaper, and in his graduate thesis that focused on anarchism and the morality of violence. His academic interests and research earned him a place on the FBI watchlist after he posted a letter in his college paper urging people to get rid of their draft cards.

Abbey published his first novel Jonathan Troy in 1954. He went on to become deeply connected to Utah by way of working as a seasonal ranger for Arches National Park in 1956 and 1957, during which time he published his second novel The Brave Cowboy (1956). His work as a ranger inspired his first work of nonfiction, Desert Solitaire (1968), a collection of treatises and personal anecdotes that is now widely considered to be his most significant creative work. Desert Solitaire describes in depth the breathtaking beauty of southern Utah, and rails against what Abbey called the practice of industrial tourism, which leads to the environmental devastation of national parks. His love for the land turned him into a staunch environmentalist, decrying machines, the modern state, and their damaging impact on the earth.

Abbey said of his writing style, “I write in a deliberately provocative and outrageous manner because I like to startle people. I hope to wake up people. I have no desire to simply soothe or please. I would rather risk making people angry than putting them to sleep. And I try to write in a style that’s entertaining as well as provocative. It’s hard for me to stay serious for more than half a page at a time.”

Though his work has been widely embraced by the environmental movement, Abbey himself resisted the label of “nature writer," even as he used the natural world as a backdrop to his stories that examine the often tense struggle between individual liberty and what he termed the "totalitarian techno-industrial state." His opinions were often shaded by arguably racist, sexist, and anti-immigration rhetoric in such essays as “Confessions of a Barbarian,” and “Immigration and Liberal Taboos.” 

Abbey died on March 14, 1989, at the age of 62, survived by his fifth wife and five children, due to complications from surgery. As a result of a mutual burial pact made with his best friend Jack Loeffler in which they agreed to neither allow the other to die in a hospital, nor be embalmed, Abbey’s body was wrapped in a blue sleeping bag by Loeffler and buried in an undisclosed place out in Cabeza Prieta Desert in Pima County, Arizona.

Bibliography

Fiction

Jonathan Troy, Dodd, Mead and Co (New York, NY), 1954 

The Brave Cowboy, Dodd, Mead and Co (New York, NY ), 1956

Fire on the Mountain, The Dial Press (New York, NY), 1962 

Black Sun, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1971 

The Monkey Wrench Gang, Lippincott (Williams & Wilkins Philadelphia, PA), 1975 

Good News, Dutton (New York, NY), 1980 

The Fool’s Progress, Henry Holt (New York, NY), 1988 

Hayduke Lives! Little Brown (New York, NY), 1990

Earth Apples: The Poetry of Edward Abbey, St. Martin’s Press (New York, NY), 1994 

Non-fiction

Anarchism and the Morality of Violence, (University of New Mexico Master’s Thesis), 1959

Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness, McGraw-Hill (New York NY), 1968 

Appalachian Wilderness: The Great Smokey Mountains, E.P. Dutton & Co (New York, NY), 1970

SlickrockThe Canyon of Southeast Utah, Gibbs M. Smith, Inc (Layton, UT), 1971

Cactus Country, Little Brown & Co (Boston, MA), 1973

The Journey Home: Some Words in the Defense of the American West, Plume (New York, NY), 1977  

The Hidden Canyon: A River Journey, Viking Press (New York, NY), 1977

Abbey's Road, E.P. Dutton & Co (New York, NY), 1979  

Desert Images, Harcourt Chanticleer Press (New York, NY), 1979

Down the River, Plume, (New York, NY), 1982

In Praise of Mountain Lions, Albuquerque Sierra Club (Albuquerque N.M.), 1984

Beyond the Wall: Essays from the Outside, Henry Holt & Co (New York, NY), 1984

One Life at a Time, Please, Henry Holt & Co (New York, NY), 1988 

A Voice Crying in the Wilderness: Notes from a Secret Journal, St Martin’s Press (New York, NY), 1989

Confessions of a Barbarian: Selections from the Journals of Edward Abbey, 1951–1989, Little, Brown & Co. (Boston, MA), 1994 

 

Links

Edward Abbey Papers, University of Arizona Special Collections 

"'Brave Cowboy': An Edward Abbey Retrospective," University of Utah Marriott Library Special Collections