October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard

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A masterful poetic exploration of the impact of Matthew Shepard?s murder on the world.

On the night of October 6, 1998, a gay twenty-one-year-old college student named Matthew Shepard was lured from a Wyoming bar by two young men, savagely beaten, tied to a remote fence, and left to die. Gay Awareness Week was beginning at the University of Wyoming, and the keynote speaker was Lesl?a Newman, discussing her book...

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A masterful poetic exploration of the impact of Matthew Shepard’s murder on the world.

On the night of October 6, 1998, a gay twenty-one-year-old college student named Matthew Shepard was lured from a Wyoming bar by two young men, savagely beaten, tied to a remote fence, and left to die. Gay Awareness Week was beginning at the University of Wyoming, and the keynote speaker was Lesléa Newman, discussing her book Heather Has Two Mommies. Shaken, the author addressed the large audience that gathered, but she remained haunted by Matthew’s murder. October Mourning, a novel in verse, is her deeply felt response to the events of that tragic day. Using her poetic imagination, the author creates fictitious monologues from various points of view, including the fence Matthew was tied to, the stars that watched over him, the deer that kept him company, and Matthew himself. More than a decade later, this stunning cycle of sixty-eight poems serves as an illumination for readers too young to remember, and as a powerful, enduring tribute to Matthew Shepard’s life.

A 2013 Stonewall Children's & Young Adult Literature Honor Book

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Just days after 21-year-old Matthew Shepard was killed in 1998, Newman (Heather Has Two Mommies) visited his school, the University of Wyoming, as the keynote speaker for its Gay Awareness Week. Writing from this personal viewpoint, Newman crafts 68 poems, imagining the perspectives of Shepard, his convicted killers, the stars above, the fence to which he was tied, a nearby deer, and many more. Despite the variety of voices and poetic forms Newman uses (haiku, pantoum, villanelle, and others), the poems read as a somewhat repetitive chorus of rage, shame, and disgust (“I can take anything/ I’m tough as time/ But when I saw him/ between the two of them/ trapped in that truck/ it made me want to heave,” says the road). It’s a visceral, painful read, but it’s difficult to say how singsongy couplets from Shepard’s cat (“Where is the boy? Will he ever be back?/ I’m cold and I’m lonely and I need a snack”) or a punny offering from the rope used to bind him (“They roped me in/ I was fit to be tied”) make this tragedy more real. Ages 14–up. (Sept.)
From the Publisher
Written with love, anger, regret, and other profound emotions, this is a truly important book that deserves the widest readership, not only among independent readers but among students in a classroom setting, as well. Most importantly, the book will introduce Matthew Shepard to a generation too young to remember the tragic circumstances of hisdeath.
—Booklist (starred review)
Children's Literature - Jean Boreen
When twenty-year-old college student Matthew Shepard was kidnapped and beaten nearly to death by two young men who decided to attack him because he was gay, the incident sparked a national conversation about the crime and its aftermath. The author of this collection of poems, inspired by Matthew's story, delivers sixty-six poems that touch on Matthew and his family, the two men who killed him, and the "objects" that witnessed his beating/torture and that "watched" over him during the eighteen hours he was tied to a buck-rail fence. The poems use a variety of forms but clearly highlight the individual "voices" of all involved (although the poet does make the point that none of the words in her poem were ever spoken publicly by anyone involved). Occasionally, the actual words of someone involved in the incident or its aftermath are used at the beginning of a poem; citations are found in the back of the book and the excerpts often add a clarification or poignancy to the poem with which it is paired. The collection is thoughtful and thought-provoking. Reviewer: Jean Boreen, Ph.D.
VOYA - Dianna Geers
Matthew Shepard was a gay university student who was beaten nearly to death, tied to a fence in an isolated area, and left to die. Although October Mourning is a fictional novel-in-verse, it is grounded in fact and provides (fictional) insights from various points of views. Each poem provides powerful and unique perspectives, allowing readers opportunities to think and talk about serious issues. Less than a week after Matthew’s death, the author of October Mourning was scheduled to give a speech for Gay Awareness Week--at Matthew’s former university. This speech had been arranged way before Matthew’s tragic death, but the importance and meaning of the speech completely changed. This book was written as her way of dealing with his death and its impact on the world. In addition to the almost seventy unique poems, valuable supplements are available at the end of the book. The epilogue explains the author’s fated keynote speech for Gay Awareness Week at the University of Wyoming, where Matthew Shepard attended college. The notes section contains references to factual documents that inspired--and were used in--each particular poem. “Explanation of Poetic Forms” reveals each poem’s form and explains each in detail. Some poems are modeled after other poems, and the inspiration is given due credit. This is a powerful book that is useful not only to promote tolerance and peace but is also a great way to study poetry forms and authors, as well as writing itself. This is a must-have book for school and public libraries. Ages 12 to 18.
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up—Matthew Shepard, a gay college student, died nearly 14 years ago, of wounds inflicted during a violent beating. Just before his brutal attack, he and other students had been planning a Gay Awareness Week; Newman was the keynote speaker at this event, which took place a week after the assault. Through 68 poems, she captures facets of the event that were likely never uncovered before. The poems' fictitious narrators, ranging from Matthew's cat to hateful frat boys at nearby Colorado State to the fence on which Shepard was abandoned, appear and then return later as the narrative unfolds. What impact will the depiction of such an event have on today's teens, many of whom were just born at the time of its occurrence? Put simply-a tremendous impact. Newman's verse is both masterful and steady-handed. Each poem is beautiful in its subtle sophistication. The overarching narrative will be appreciated most by readers who have read a brief overview of what happened to Matthew, but those who haven't will certainly be inspired to do so immediately following. Many teens will see how very far we've come, while others will see how far we still have to go. Either way, the book will be a valuable addition to poetry and fiction collections.Jill Heritage Maza, Montclair Kimberley Academy, Montclair, NJ
Kirkus Reviews
Nearly 14 years after the unspeakable tragedy that put Laramie, Wyo., on the hate crimes map, lesbian literary icon Newman offers a 68-poem tribute to Matthew Shepard. Readers who were infants on October 6, 1998, may learn here for the first time how the 21-year-old Shepard was lured from a bar by two men who drove him to the outskirts of town, beat him mercilessly, tied him to a fence and left him to die. Ironically, months before Shepard's murder, Newman had been invited to Laramie to speak at the University of Wyoming's Gay Awareness Week and actually delivered her keynote address on the day he died. This cycle of poems, meant to be read sequentially as a whole, incorporates Newman's reflections on Shepard's killing and its aftermath, using a number of common poetic forms and literary devices to portray the events of that fateful night and the trial that followed. While the collection as a whole treats a difficult subject with sensitivity and directness, these poems are in no way nuanced or subtle. For example, Newman repeatedly employs personification to make inanimate objects, such as the fence, road, clothesline and truck, unwitting accessories to the crime, and she imitates William Carlos Williams' "This Is Just to Say" false-apology format no fewer than four times with mixed results. Though somewhat heavyhanded, these poems are sure to instill much-needed empathy and awareness to gay issues in today's teens. (Poetry. 14 & up)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780763658076
  • Publisher: Candlewick Press
  • Publication date: 9/25/2012
  • Pages: 128
  • Sales rank: 344,259
  • Age range: 14 - 17 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Lesléa Newman is the author of more than sixty books for children and adults, including the groundbreaking children’s classic Heather Has Two Mommies. A former poet laureate of Northampton, Massachusetts, she has received poetry fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Massachusetts Artists Fellowship Foundation. She lives in Holyoke, Massachusetts.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 5, 2014

    This book is beautifully written. A heartbreaking exploration of

    This book is beautifully written. A heartbreaking exploration of the tragedy of Matthew Shepherd's murder that will make you angry, heartbroken, and full of sorrow, yet is strangely hopeful, too. This is a book that should be read by EVERYONE. It takes less than an hour to read, but the message lives on for much longer in the hearts of everyone that picks it up. 

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  • Posted September 25, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    A beautifully written book that will stay in my heart forever!

    A beautifully written book that will stay in my heart forever!

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