On the 14th anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s death Leslea Newman responds to the tragedy with October Mourning

On the 14th anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s death it is my honor to host Leslea Newman, celebrate her newest book, October Mourning, A song for Matthew Shepard and pay tribute to his memory. As the author of over sixty books, Leslea has been a tireless advocate for justice. She continues this great work in this cycle of sixty-eight poems that remind us what is at stake as we work for justice and fight for our very lives.
I am grateful she is such a tireless warrior for peace. Leslea is also a fantastic friend.
In her own words, Leslea Newman –

I remember Thursday, October 8, 1998 as though it were yesterday. I was sitting at our round, oak kitchen table when the phone rang. It was a crisp-as-a-Granny-Smith-apple New England evening. Something delicious was simmering on the stove. Mary, my beloved spouse, was in the living room, waiting to be called to supper. I picked up the phone.
“Hey Lesléa, it’s Jim.”
Jim was Jim Osborn, head of the University of Wyoming’s LGBT Association. He had called me months ago to ask me to be the keynote speaker for Gay Awareness Week which would begin the following Monday. I was to give a presentation on my book, Heather Has Two Mommies. All our plans were set. I wondered if something had changed.
The whole world had changed, but I didn’t know that yet.
“I have something to tell you,” Jim said, his voice uncharacteristically serious. Jim went on to say that his good friend Matt Shepard, who was also a member of the university’s LGBT group, had been kidnapped, robbed, beaten, tied to a fence, and abandoned by two young men who had met him at a bar. Matt spent a cold, windy Wyoming night all alone on the outskirts of town, and wasn’t discovered for 18 hours, when a biker accidentally came upon him. Matt was now in the hospital, in a coma. The campus and town was in an uproar. It was clear that Matt had been targeted because he was gay.
“So,” Jim said with a deep sigh, “I wouldn’t blame you if you decided not to come.”
“Wait a minute,” I said, confused. “Are you canceling Gay Awareness Week? Do you want me not to come?”
“No,” Jim said. “We very much want you to come.”
“Then I’ll be there,” I assured him. And on Monday, October 12th, I kissed Mary goodbye and boarded my flight. Because I had started traveling early in the day, I didn’t know that Matt had died that morning until hours later when I stepped off the plane. And since one of the last things Matt did on the Tuesday night before he was attacked was attend a meeting of the University of Wyoming’s LGBT Association to finish planning Gay Awareness Week, I have felt personally connected to him and his story ever since.
It wasn’t until 11 years later that I began writing October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard. Some books have long gestation periods, and this is one of them. The book is a cycle of 68 poems that explore the impact of Matt’s murder through fictitious monologues from various points of view. I knew that there were witnesses to the crime: the truck Matt was kidnapped in, the fence he was tied to, the moon that watched over him, a deer that kept him company all through the night. I also knew that the only way to access the voices of these silent witnesses was through poetry. And my intuition proved correct: as soon as I began to write, the poems poured out of me like water. They were in a word, unstoppable.
Though the poems in October Mourning can’t bring Matt Shepard back, what they can do is honor his memory and teach his story to teen readers who are too young to remember. My hope is that the book will inspire readers of all ages to carry on Matt’s legacy, by working to erase hate and replace it with understanding, compassion, and love.

THE FENCE
(that night)

I held him all night long
He was heavy as a broken heart
Tears fell from his unblinking eyes
He was dead weight yet he kept breathing

He was heavy as a broken heart
His own heart wouldn’t stop beating
He was dead weight yet he kept breathing
His face streaked with moonlight and blood

His own heart wouldn’t stop beating
The cold wind wouldn’t stop blowing
His face streaked with moonlight and blood
I tightened my grip and held on

The cold wind wouldn’t stop blowing
We were out on the prairie alone
I tightened my grip and held on
I saw what was done to this child

We were out on the prairie alone
Their truck was the last thing he saw
I saw what was done to this child
I cradled him just like a mother

Their truck was the last thing he saw
Tears fell from his unblinking eyes
I cradled him just like a mother
I held him all night long

OCTOBER MOURNING: A SONG FOR MATTHEW SHEPARD. Copyright © 2012 by Lesléa Newman. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

Link to Book Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2XFdG3Id9Sg

Link to website: http://www.lesleanewman.com/newbks.htm

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About sallybellerose

Author of The Girls Club, Bywater Press, spring 2011 http://amzn.to/apVqj1 writer gardener booklover
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2 Responses to On the 14th anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s death Leslea Newman responds to the tragedy with October Mourning

  1. I cried when she read from this at Spalding’s Residency. It is a beautiful, heartrending book and a beautiful tribute.

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