Monday, October 16, 2023

Q&A with Lesléa Newman





Lesléa Newman is the author of the new young adult book Always Matt: A Tribute to Matthew Shepard. Newman's many other books include the classic children's book Heather Has Two Mommies. She lives in Holyoke, Massachusetts.


Q: Why did you decide to write this tribute to Matthew Shepard (1976-1998), a young gay man who was murdered in Wyoming?


A: Over a decade ago, I was asked by Jason Marsden, who was the executive director of the Matthew Shepard Foundation at the time, to write a picture book about Matt. I tried for many many years to fulfill this challenging assignment, and finally came up with the text for Always Matt.


I wanted to write more about his life and legacy than about his death and murder (I had already done that with my novel-in-verse, October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard).


My wonderful editor Howard Reeves loved the project right away but said it wasn’t a picture book, it was a “family book” – a book that families could read together, discuss, and hopefully be inspired by.


Q: The cartoonist and writer Alison Bechdel said of the book, “Lesléa Newman’s minimalist poetic text combined with Brian Britigan’s shimmering illustrations cast a ray of light and hope on a very dark episode of human history, and in the process, creates a vision of a transformed world.” What do you think of that description?


A: I think this is a wonderful description, and that Alison saw exactly what I was trying to do: tell the story of Matt’s life and legacy, showing that out of this horrible tragedy, many people did and continue to do important work in his memory to make the world a better place. All of us must work hard to create the kind of world that we want to live in.

Q: What do you think of Brian Britigan’s illustrations?


A: The first time I saw Brian’s artwork, it brought tears to my eyes. His drawings bring my words to life in a way that I could never have imagined.


I know he put a huge amount of thought into the project and he got it just right. I feel that his illustrations/visual storytelling set just the right tone. The style, the colors, the composition, everything is perfect.


Q: What do you see as Matthew Shepard’s legacy today?


A: Matt’s legacy will continue to have far-reaching effects for years and decades to come. From what I understand, he was such a gentle soul, and very passionate about making the world a better place. What happened to him is a crime and a tragedy.


We can’t bring him back. What we can do is carry on the work he never got a chance to do: the work of making the world a kinder, gentler, more peaceful place for everyone. Fighting injustice as hard as we can—that is Matt’s legacy.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I have many projects in the works! I am very excited about several picture books coming out in 2024: Joyful Song, coming out from Levine Querido, is a naming story and I’m so pleased to say that it is my first picture book with overt LGBTQ+ content and Jewish content. Usually it’s one or the other! 


There’s also Like Father, Like Son, a book about all the ways fathers can be kind and gentle with their sons, which is coming out from Abrams. There are others, but those are the ones I can talk about.


I am also working on poems for adults—I am a poet at heart and it’s where my career started—and hope to be putting together a new collection.


If readers want a taste of my poetry, here’s a poem I wrote for my beloved friend Patricia MacLachlan, author of Sarah, Plain and Tall, and many other wonderful children’s books, who died last year.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Always Matt is a gorgeous physical object, almost a holy book, a book of prayer. It’s a book to hold between your hands and sit with quietly. I am grateful to have had this opportunity to speak about it. Thank you.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Lesléa Newman.

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