October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard

Published by Candlewick Press, 2012

October MourningBuy This Book

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Matthew Shepard
Photo courtesy of the Matthew Shepard Foundation

On the night of October 6, 1998, Matthew Shepard, a gay, twenty-one-year-old college student, was lured from a Wyoming bar by two young men, savagely beaten, tied to a remote fence, and left to die. The 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 and 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 twenty years 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.

Watch the Book Trailer on YouTube.

Download October Mourning Teacher’s Guide as PDF file.

Download information about the presentation, “He Continues to Make a Difference: The Story of Matthew Shepard.”

“He Continues to Make a Difference: ELA and History Resource, Matthew Shepard, Grades 9-12”
Compiled by GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian, Straight Educational Network) and Matthew Shepard Foundation

Fence
The author at the fence, Laramie, Wyoming. Photo by Plynn Gutman.

Why I wrote this book

I was deeply affected by Matthew Shepard’s murder, and I wrote October Mourning to try to understand the impact this hate crime has had on the world and on myself. By telling Matt’s story in the voices of the silent witnesses (the fence he was tied to, the stars that watched over him, the deer who kept him company, etc.) I hoped to create a compelling narrative that would enable young readers to experience the intense emotions of that day which resonated around the world. Further, I hope that readers of October Mourning will be inspired to carry out Matt’s legacy of erasing hate and replacing it with compassion, understanding, and love. Each one of us can and must make a difference and make the world a safer place for all.

Read Lesléa’s article “Writing October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard: An 11-Year Journey” at The Huffington Post

Excerpt

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

From October Mourning: A Song For Matthew Shepard. ©2012 by Lesléa Newman. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

Reviews

“Even looking at October Mourning dispassionately as a piece of literature or as a work of nonfiction, it is exceptional….This is the one book I’ve reviewed so far this year that I believe must be read by everyone ages 14 and up. It takes less than an hour to read; but it will likely stay with the reader for a long time to come. Highly recommended for both YA and adult poetry collections.”

Read a review by Emilie Hanson.

Read a review by Noah Stetzer.