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Popular Topics in Literature
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Congratulations to Lesléa Newman
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 09/28/12
Last updated on: 09/28/12
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Matthew Shepard.

Congratulations to Lesléa Newman on the publication of October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard. A slim but powerful volume of poems, "a historical novel in verse," October Mourning explores with heartbreaking insight the meaning of a gentle young man's unspeakable death at the hands of gaybashers in October 1998.

Newman, who may be best known as the author of children's books such as Heather Has Two Mommies, a straightforward story of a little girl who has "two arms, two hands, two legs, two eyes, two ears, two hands and two feet," and two lesbian mothers, is also the author of the acclaimed short story, "A Letter to Harvey Milk" (1987), in which she ties Jewish history and oppression to the struggle for gay liberation through a rambling letter written to the slain San Francisco politician by an older straight man.

On the night of October 6, 1998, Shepard was lured from a Laramie, Wyoming bar by two young men. He was savagely beaten, tied to a remote fence, and left to die. Gay Awareness Week was beginning at the University of Wyoming, and Newman had been invited as the keynote speaker to discuss Heather Has Two Mommies. Shaken by the news of Shepard's bashing, Newman addressed the large audience that gathered on the night that Shepard died six days after the beating.

As Newman explains in an article at HuffingtonPost, "I imagined Matt Shepard, whose picture had been splashed all over the newspapers, sitting in the front row for my speech. I knew he had planned on coming to my lecture. I knew he had attended a meeting of the school's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Association to finish planning Gay Awareness Week the night he was attacked. I knew he had been robbed, kidnapped, beaten, and tied to a fence, where he remained undiscovered for 18 hours, all because he was gay."

Over the years she remained haunted by the murder of the young man, whose passing on October 12, 1998 struck a deep chord in the entire nation. In October Mourning she confronts the tragedy from multiple points of view, presenting monologues spoken by the fence Matthew was tied to, the stars that watched over him, the deer that kept him company, and Matthew himself.

Newman explains, "I was inspired to write about Matt's death from the imagined perspectives of the 'silent witnesses' to the murder. I wanted the stars, the fence, and the wind to symbolically bear witness to the tragedy spawned by hatred, and to deliver a message of hope."

As Helene Meyers points out in a review of October Mourning in Lilith, the new volume resembles "A Letter to Harvey Milk" in that it "does the work of preserving the atrocities of history while firmly offering a vision of choosing life. Refusing to let Shepard fade into oblivion, abstraction, statistic, or symbol, Newman here reminds us that the impulse to repair the world requires imagination as well as concrete memory."

The book is available from Candlewick Press.

Here is a trailer in which Newman reads from the book.

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