Monday, February 11, 2013

October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard by Leslea Newman

Matthew Shepard was brutally murdered by two homophobic men in Wyoming about 15 years ago. There is never a good time for a book about a young college student who is lured out of a bar, tied to a fence post in the middle of the country, beaten heartlessly, and left to die. The story makes my stomach turn just like it did when it first happened. AND I can't thank Leslea Newman enough for taking on this brutal story and crafting such a heartbreaking and direly important book.

Newman is well known for her work as an author, particularly in gay and lesbian lit circles. This time she seems to enter the work from a place of deep, painful wounding, from an obvious recognition of a tremendous wrongdoing and exquisite loss. Allow me to take you through my own experience as I read her writing...

At the library, upon seeing the cover, I immediately hoarded the copy into my arms. It was as if I didn't want anyone to take it from me, I needed to read it. I knew the story from newspapers and web stories, and I have witnessed the trials high-schoolers experience as districts and administration refuse to allow them to put on theatrical performances with Shepard's mutilating experience at the center. The gay issue simply and forcefully keeps snagging people; being a lesbian, I watch, listen, learn, question, wonder, read. At home, I stole away into the bedroom after making dinner, knowing I needed time alone. As dark descended into my room, my vision tunneled as I entered the graceful and painful words Newman creates here. I couldn't stop reading until the end.

With no answers and much, much pain, this story must be told. I am guessing that only Newman knew she had to write from such a heartbroken place of vulnerability. She writes like a mother reeling in the losses of a child. She creates voices of objects who witnessed what happened that awful night-- the fence post, the stars, the truck--  complete poems with their voices striking chords with compassion and clarity. It is as if she becomes those things, her writing so compelling to me I needed to hear her say more. So on I read.  And in doing so, she lifts Shepard up as a saint, cradling his loss with grace and kindness, tethering the harsh ways of the perpetrators with compunction that reminds us to find our breath again after moments like these.

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