When author and LGBTQ activist Leslea Newman appeared at the University of Wyoming as a guest speaker for Gay Awareness Week in 1998, it was the same day Matthew Shepard died.
From that day on, their lives and his death have been woven and linked in poetry, essay and song.
Newman appeared Thursday at the Helmke Library at Purdue University Fort Wayne to talk about Shepard, her writings about him and LGBTQ issues, and her book “October Mourning, A Song for Matthew Shepard,” now a theatrical production with music.
A Midwest premiere for the “October Mourning” show will take place at 3 p.m. Sunday at Plymouth Congregational Church, 501 W. Berry St.
Newman, who has written many children's books including “Heather Has Two Mommies,” is lesbian and has written and lectured on Shepard's death.
Purdue Fort Wayne students, most of whom hadn't heard the Matthew Shepard story, listened to Newman as she recounted the events leading up to his death.
On Oct., 6, 1998, Shepard was lured from a bar in Laramie, Wyoming, by two men who intended to rob him, but Newman said many believe it was a crime of hate. All three were 21.
Shepard, who was a student at the University of Wyoming and, according to Newman, had intended to attend her lecture that night, was beaten, tortured and tied to a fence by a road.
Shepard spent 18 hours in near-freezing temperatures before a cyclist passed him, first thinking he was a scarecrow because it was close to Halloween.
He was rescued and taken to a hospital, but he died from his injuries Oct. 12 surrounded by his family.
His killers were convicted of murder, and in October 2009, President Barack Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law.
Hugo Mata, a student majoring in health services administration who attended the lecture, said before Newman spoke that he was aware of her work. Afterward, he found her poetry and presentation “spiritual and inspiring, but it also makes you realize it's real life.”
Robert Nance, artistic director of Heartland Sings, the producer and director of “October Mourning,” said the production was timely since it is the 20th anniversary of Shepard's death. The music, by California composer Curtis Heard, and words were “extremely moving.”
“Some of the salient issues are still some things we struggle with today,” Nance said.
For more information about the production, go to HeartlandSings.org. Tickets are $30, $20 for students and $35 at the door. There are also $50 tickets available to meet Newman.