Monday, March 25, 2013

October Mourning by Leslea Newman

Leslea Newman has chosen verse novel format and a chorus of voices to record the events surrounding a tragedy in October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard. In her introduction, Newman writes: "While the poems in this book are inspired by actual events, they do not in any way represent the statements, thoughts, feelings, opinions, or attitudes of any actual person. [...] The poems are not an objective reporting of Matthew Shepard's murder and its aftermath; rather they are my own personal interpretation of them."

Inanimate objects like a fence, a road and memorial armbands have their say, as well as a wide spectrum of people. It is very effective, very moving. I cried.

I had known that anti-gay protestors from the Westboro Baptist Church picketed Shepard's funeral. I hadn't known that people dressed as angels used their seven-foot wings to block out the same protesters at the trials of Shepard's murderers.

I also hadn't known that Newman had given a keynote speech at the University of Wyoming's Gay Awareness Week on the very weekend that Shepard died. I can understand how a writer might be compelled to respond in such a deeply personal way as October Mourning.

In Newman's afterward, she explores her reaction at the time. "Why was I feeling so emotional? Why did I care so much about Matthew Shepard? I had never met him or even heard his name until a few days before my arrival. I subscribe to many gay newspapers and unfortunately I read about gay bashings all the time. And while I always get terribly upset to read about such horrific events, being at Matthew's school, meeting his friends and teachers, and knowing that he had planned on attending my lecture, filled me with an unspeakable sadness. And a touch of fear."

Shepard's shockingly violent death in 1998 received a lot of media attention and directed a spotlight on the issue of GLBTQ hate crimes. That was 15 years ago. Sadly, the hate continues.

Newman will be giving a human rights lecture in Edmonton at the University of Alberta on Wednesday, March 27. Details are available here. I look forward to hearing her talk.

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