On Wednesday night, GLAAD friend and author Lesléa Newman gave a reading of her new book at Books of Wonder in New York City. The reading was done in partnership with Children's Media Association. The new book, October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard, is a collection of poems and deeply personal reflection on the 1998 murder of gay college student Matthew Shepard. Lesléa was scheduled to give a talk about her landmark 1989 book Heather Has Two Mommies for Gay Awareness Week at the University of Wyoming, where Matthew was student, five days after he was beaten, tied to a fence and left for dead. Lesléa was told they would understand if she didn't want to come after the attack but it felt more important to her than ever. When she arrived on campus the day Matthew died from his injuries, she found a campus in shock. As she was driven from the airport she asked her student driver what the state population was.
"About 450,000," the driver said, her eyes filling with tears, "minus one."
As Lesléa gave her speech, the members of the school's LGBT Association sat in the front row. There was an empty chair, in which Matthew would have sat as a member of the Association. It became very personal for Lesléa as she realized that, had he not been murdered, she would've met Matthew Shepard. After her speech, many students came up to thank her for being there.
"I realized that the students didn't need to hear my speech as much as they needed to see me; an out, proud lesbian, the same age, as many of their mothers, right before their very eyes. I know that my presence communicated to them if my life was possible their lives were possible too," she writes, in an essay entitled Imagine.
Since then, Lesléa has written nearly seventy poems that make up this heart-wrenching and thoughtful anthology. She imagines the voices of many key elements of the tragedy including the fence Matthew was tied to, the doe that spent the night with him before he was discovered, the yellow armbands students distributed in his memory, the journalists and doctors, the murderers and even Matthew's own heart. Lesléa is also a member of the Matthew Shepard Foundation's Speakers Bureau. She travels around the country speaking to young people and educators about the impact of Heather Has Two Mommies and Matthew Shepard, among other topics. A complete list of her presentations and publications can be found on her website.