Remembering ‘A Walk in the Woods’ with ‘Stephen Katz’

Recently I had a telephone conversation with one of my oldest friends back in Des Moines. I have known Pete Rose (not that Pete Rose) since high school. I mentioned a mutual friend of ours, Matthew Angerer, and Pete began talking about Matt in the past tense. I said, “Wait, what? Is Matthew dead?!”

Pete informed me that our friend died on June 22. Perhaps you are wondering why I am writing about him? Well, Matt was instrumental in catapulting the author Bill Bryson into fame, fortune, and the best-seller list. Bryson had cultivated a readership, mostly in England, with humorous non-fiction titles.

Then in 1998 he published “A Walk in the Woods.” When the paperback came out it sold millions and topped best seller lists for years. It was the story of Bryson’s hike along the Appalachian Trail with his buddy “Stephen Katz.” The two men had been chums since they were teenagers.

Katz was Bryson’s fictional pseudonym for Matthew Angerer. Matt’s identity as Katz was secret for years. Have you read “A Walk in the Woods?” A brilliant book, right? Katz makes it so. When he’s in the story things are hilarious. Later, when Bryson hikes alone it isn’t very amusing.

Robert Redford bought the movie rights. Originally Redford would portray Bryson and Paul Newman would be Katz. The film eventually came out in 2015; Newman had been dead for seven years and Katz was played by Nick Nolte. The book is fabulous, the film atrocious.

I met Matthew when I was a teenager. Bryson had already left Des Moines and was living in England. In 2006 Bryson published a memoir, “The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid,” recalling his youth in Des Moines. Matthew played a large role in that book, too.

I met Bryson in 1996. I interviewed him on the radio and mentioned I knew Matt. Bryson had a bizarre reaction, he did not want to talk about Matthew. I was perplexed. A few years later I figured out why that was. He and Matt had already taken their hike and he was writing this book about it, a book without anybody named Matt in it.

As “Woods” became huge I hoped to arrange a phone interview with Bryson. He was in Australia working on his next memoir and wasn’t available. I called Matthew and persuaded him to do a radio interview with me as “Stephen Katz.”

Nobody knew who Katz really was. We had a delightful conversation about hiking with his pal Billy Bryson. The following year Bryson came through Yellow Springs for his Australia book and I was ready for him. I played him a tape of Matthew talking about him.

Bryson exclaimed: “It was you!” Apparently Matthew had been tormenting Bryson with recordings of snippets from our interview. I have many memories of Matthew. He had an old ambulance. One time he took me for a hundred mile long ride at top speed along country roads. He was laughing insanely the entire way. I’ll never forget him.

Vick Mickunas of Yellow Springs interviews authors every Saturday at 7 a.m. and on Sundays at 10:30 a.m. on WYSO-FM (91.3). For more information, visit Contact him at

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