Always Matt: A Tribute to Matthew Shepard
Illustrated by Brian Britigan
Published September 26, 2023
About Always Matt: A Tribute to Matthew Shepard
A poignant tribute to the life of Matthew Shepard and his legacy in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights, published on the 25th anniversary of the formation of the Matthew Shepard Foundation.
On the night of October 6, 1998, in Laramie, Wyoming, Matthew Wayne Shepard (1976–1998) was brutally killed solely because he was gay. It was a shocking murder that was nationally covered in the media, and it became a rallying cry for the LGBTQ+ rights movement. In 2009, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act was signed by President Barack Obama, expanding the federal hate crime law to include crimes motivated by a victim’s actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.
With a foreword by Jason Collins—the first openly gay, active player in the NBA—and written by Lesléa Newman—author of the Stonewall Honor–winning novel-in-verse October A Song for Matthew Shepard, and a friend of the Shepard family—Always Matt is an emotional yet ultimately hopeful look at the progress that’s been made, as well as the work that still continues, in advocating for the dignity and equality of all people. Without shying away from the pain and tragedy of his death, moving, lyrical prose and minimalist line drawings present a celebration of his incredible life.
Twenty-five years after the formation of the Matthew Shepard Foundation, which dedicates its mission to erasing hate, Matthew’s story still resonates for those who lived through it, and remains a vital piece of LGBTQ+ history for younger generations to learn.
I don’t have any strong memories from when these events happened, but I know I’d heard about Matthew Shepard before reading this book. Despite not having a personal connection to the tragedy, I found reading this book so deeply moving. Each page drew me into thinking about what Matthew Shepard’s life was like. His childhood. Adolescence. Early adulthood.
When I got to the page that references his death, I felt gut-punched. I felt gut-punched again reading about the hateful protests at the courthouse and the funeral service. Is there anything as destructive as hate? Awful. I loved that people dressed up as angels with giant wings that they used to shield people from those messages of hate and fear.
What’s truly beautiful, though, is the way that Matt’s family and community have rallied together to share a message of peace and kindness. It’s courageous.
This is a brave book. It’s unflinching in its truth-telling, but it centers around celebrating a boy’s life, his dreams, and hopes for the future. In the foreword, Jason Collins shares how Matthew Shepard’s death impacted him personally. The author and illustrator also share their personal connections. There were a few other brief stories about people who’ve been impacted. All were so heartfelt.
This is an incredible tribute to a young man whose life has, without doubt, changed the world. I am honestly in awe, and I’m so grateful that the author reached out and asked me to review this book.
Recommended for Ages 14 up.
Includes a foreward by Jason Collins, the first openly gay active NBA player. The story focuses on the life of Matthew Shepard, a young gay man.
Profanity/Crude Language Content
The family received comfort in Matt’s ashes being interred at an Episcopal church with a ceremony led by the first openly gay bishop in the church.
One illustration shows Matthew Shepard lying on the ground after being attacked. It isn’t graphic, but I did find the image shocking because it really brings home what happened. The text talks about the murder briefly but spends much more time talking about the impact this senseless death had on the community and world.
There are brief references to homophobic protests held at Matthew Shepard’s funeral and outside the hospital.
Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support this blog. I received a free copy of ALWAYS MATT in exchange for my honest review. All opinions my own.
Matthew Shepard Foundation
The Matthew Shepard Foundation is an organization that works to promote dignity and equality among all people through sharing Matt’s story and his passion for creating a kinder world. You can learn more about the foundation on their website.