Newman, Lesléa. 2012. OCTOBER MOURNING: A SONG FOR MATTHEW SHEPARD. Candlewick Press. ISBN 9780763658076 [Suggested Grade Levels 9-12]
The author, Lesléa Newman, was set to be the featured speaker for Gay Awareness Week at the University of Wyoming the same week that college student Matthew Shepard was robbed, beaten and left to die—because he was gay. The poems in this collection are her attempt to explore the events and perspectives surrounding his horrific attack and death. They channel a variety of human and personified points of view including the fence where Shepard was tied, the deer nearby, the stars and wind, as well as the the victim’s mother, friends, police officers, a journalist, and even the two perpetrators. Together, they paint a picture that is gripping, compelling, and heart-breaking. Yet, the book has a quiet dignity that is a fitting tribute to the young life taken too early. In addition, the poetry is beautifully crafted and Newman weaves together an impressive variety of poetic forms including haiku, “found” poems, pantoums, list poems, “This is Just to Say” poems, alphabet poems, villanelles, acrostic poems, and more, along with a section explaining each form. She provides source notes for the factual material that grounds the poems, as well as lists of books, DVDs, and websites that readers may find helpful. This is a brilliant example of how poetry can help us cope with horror in a way that facts alone cannot.
This is a difficult subject, but an important one to foster open discussion. If a PFLAG group or gay-straight alliance is present on campus or in the community, invite representatives to talk with students. Or consult PFLAG.org for more information.
Or explore the various poetic forms and types that Newman presents in this novel in verse (such as haiku found poems, pantoums, list poems, villanelles, acrostics, etc.). Talk about the “rules” of each form and challenge students to try writing a poem of their own in one of these new forms.
Pair this book with others that focus on a young person being discriminated against and even killed for being different.
Clark, Kristin Elizabeth. FREAK BOY. ISBN 9780374324728
Crowe, Chris. GETTING AWAY WITH MURDER. ISBN 978-0803728042
Nelson, Marilyn. A WREATH FOR EMMETT TILL. ISBN 0618397523
By Sylvia Vardell