One of our recommended books is October Mourning by Leslea Newman

OCTOBER MOURNING

A Song for Matthew Shepard


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 kidnapped 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,

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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 kidnapped 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.

Back matter includes an epilogue, an afterword, explanations of poetic forms, and resources.

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  • Candlewick Press
  • Paperback
  • September 2020
  • 144 Pages
  • 9781536215779

Buy the Book

$9.99

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About Lesléa Newman

Leslea Newman is the author of October MourningLesléa Newman is the author of more than seventy books for children and adults, including the groundbreaking children’s classic Heather Has Two Mommies. She has received poetry fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Massachusetts Artists Fellowship Foundation. She lives in Massachusetts.

Praise

Selection: ALA Best Books for Young Adults
Honor: Stonewall Children’s and Young Adult Literature Award

“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 his death.—Booklist (starred review)

“Newman’s language serves the voices well, the poems always simple, accessible, and moving.” —The Horn Book

“These poems are sure to instill much-needed empathy and awareness to gay issues in today’s teens.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Newman deploys a wide range of poetic forms, including pantoums, villanelles, haiku, and concrete poems, but all share jagged rhythms and a biting sense of grief and helplessness.” —Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

“This title is perfect for any secondary library; it is a brilliant example of various poetic forms and deals with several issues from a variety of perspectives. This book is incredibly thought-provoking and will have a gut-wrenching impact on the reader and discussion groups alike.—Library Media Connection (highly recommended)

“Newman’s verse is both masterful and steady-handed. Each poem is beautiful in its subtle sophistication.” —School Library Journal

Discussion Questions

1. In her introduction to October Mourning, the author explains that “the poems are not an objective reporting of Matthew Shepard’s murder and its aftermath”; they are the author’s “own personal interpretation of them” (page xi). Her notes at the end of the book, however, reveal how deeply she drew from the reporting of others. Discuss how facts and imagination intertwine throughout this book. Can poetry be more truthful than factual reporting? How?

2. “Recipe for Disaster” lists the deadly ingredients that were combined on the night that Matthew Shepard was tortured. Which ingredient do you think was the most dangerous? Why?

3. A truck, a road, a deer, even a length of rope offer their perspectives on the deadly October night. Why do you think the author decided to give voices to these normally silent witnesses?

4. How does an ordinary person become a martyr? In “Class Photo: Me in the Middle”, Matthew’s classmates are described as future ballerinas or karate masters, but he’s labeled a martyr. Does any child want to grow up to be a martyr? How is the memory of a martyr kept alive?

5. While Matthew Shepard was dying at a nearby hospital, some fraternity brothers in Fort Collins, Colorado, mocked his suffering at their university’s homecoming parade. Why would they behave that way? Why does cruelty sometimes disguise itself as humor?

6. Experienced medical professionals have seen many shattered bodies. Why is it so hard for the physician who narrates “The Doctor” to control himself when he sees what has happened to Matthew Shepard?

7. Because of the author’s crisp and clear explanations of poetic forms, this is not just a book of poems; it’s also a book about poetry. How does the form of a poem shape its meaning and its impact? How, for example, would a concrete poem like “Stars” be different if it were written as a haiku, like “Every Mother’s Plea”?

8. In her afterword, the author includes several concrete steps that every reader of October Mourning can take to combat homophobia. Which of her suggestions can you do right now? What specific actions would you add to her list?

9. More than twenty years have passed since Matthew Shephard was killed. Do you think a similar atrocity could happen now? Why?

10. In “Then and Now”, the poem concludes with the narrator realizing, “Now I am a lesson.” What do you think is the lesson of Matthew Shepard?

Excerpt

Outnumbered

October 6, 1998
approximately 11:45 p.m.

There were about
6 billion people
in the world
that night

There were around
281 million people
in the United States
that night

There were perhaps
483 thousand people
in Wyoming
that night

There were maybe
26 thousand people
in Laramie
that night

There were roughly
20 people
in the Fireside Lounge
that night

There were precisely
3 people
in that Ford pickup
that night

2 triumphant
1 terrified

 

Recipe for Disaster

Take two local boys
(with hearts removed)
Place in bar
Add one pitcher of beer
Bring slowly to a boil

Toss in one gay college kid
(sweet and on the small side)
Add more alcohol
Stir together
Remove from bar

Add equal amounts
rage
hatred
ignorance
fear

Place heated mix in cab of truck
Wait for things to go sour

It won’t take long

 

Text © 2012 by Lesléa Newman