Award-Winning Author Malinda Lo Presents Her Book “Last Night at the Telegraph Club”

Emanuelle Oliveira also contributed to this article.

Malden High School was an award recipient from the Boston Book Festival’s Shelf Help Program and welcomed The New York Times bestselling author Malinda Lo to the school library to deliver a presentation on her book Last Night at the Telegraph Club for students and staff.

Author Malinda Lo’s autumn-festive presentation for her book “Last Night at the Telegraph Club” in the Malden High School library.

The presentation was held on October 28 during FLEX block. Against a festive backdrop, Lo described to her audience the inspirations, setting, and characters that materialized the words on every page of Last Night at the Telegraph Club, which won the book numerous awards and honors including a National Book Award, Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature, and Stonewall Book Award for Young Adult Literature.

The book is only one of seven written by Lo that is “all about queer girls coming to understand who they are.” The rhythm behind her books is “taking stories that have traditionally-excluded lesbians and bisexual women and change them into narratives where being queer is normal,” Lo said.

Particularly, readers of the award-winning Last Night at the Telegraph Club enter the world of 1950s San Francisco Chinatown in the corners of Montgomery Street and Broadway where Chinese-American protagonist Lily Hu and her Caucasian-American soulmate, Kathleen Miller, tackle the obstacles of tradition, balancing heritage and the American identity, and—most importantly—the stigma of same-gender and interracial relationships to let their love see the light of day.

Lo chose this setting for the ‘50s-era lesbian clubs once abundant along these streets—with one of them being the fictional Telegraph Club in which Lily and Kath fully discover and embrace their lesbian identity.

However, she also addressed difficulties in gathering history to craft the book’s most fitting adaptation of 1950s San Francisco. This question had further entangled the writing process: “What was life for a queer Chinese American in San Francisco in the ‘50s?” In her extensive research, she found there to be “such little record about queer Chinese Americans that whenever I came across any little tidbit about a queer Chinese American, it was mentioned in passing or in the footnotes. It was almost like they were nonexistent.”

Due to the shifting cultural landscape of San Francisco in the later 1900s, the soft liveliness and vibrations felt from underground lesbian clubs on the streets of Montgomery and Broadway had gradually faded since. She ultimately felt that “our experiences have been erased, or we have literally been shunted into the footnotes.”

But with immense readership and praise for “Last Night at the Telegraph Club,” Lily and Kath’s story is shedding light on the queer Asian American experience that seemed to have vanished from the textbooks.

Author Malinda Lo discussing her book “Last Night at the Telegraph Club.”

Lo described in her presentation that making such an impact from – not only this particular book, but all seven -had been her goal as an author ever since she discovered a passion for writing flowing through her veins. As the daughter of two struggling Chinese immigrants, she changed and informed the world through her works and became an eminent name in the genre of LGBTQIA+ romance fiction. “And what was interesting is that when I went to college, I studied economics,” Lo shared, “so this is a dream come true. Being an author was really my destiny.”

The author finished her presentation with a Q&A session, inviting all questions from those about the grueling general writing process and her life as an author to new publications, which includes the book A Scatter of Light—one also set in the San Francisco Bay Area and offering a glimpse into Lily and Kath’s future after Last Night at the Telegraphic Club takes place.

Once questions settled down, Lo sat down to do a book signing and kindly chat with attendees. Among them was English teacher Jennifer Clapp, who enjoyed seeing “how in-depth [Lo] went into her historical research to be able to create a world of her book” and found that the pictures and articles included in the presentation showcased this. Clapp added that she “loved the questions that students asked and thought [Lo] gave terrific answers.”

Additionally, sophomore Ivana Marinkovic attended the author visit and felt like she was “given an opportunity to learn of the vast ways I can improve on my own writing. She also  “loved how much attention the author gave to researching about her book’s general topic and how “great a way it was to advocate for LGBTQ rights, as the plot revolves around a girl who is seeking her identity…when you wouldn’t necessarily find too many queer girls in the 1950s.”

Eventually, all would leave the library fulfilled and with signed copies of “Last Night at the Telegraph Club” in their hands.

LEFT TO RIGHT: Author Malinda Lo and presentation attendees smile for a photo; Author Malinda Lo signing book copies of “Last Night at the Telegraph Club.”; Author Malinda Lo reads an excerpt from her book “Last Night at the Telegraph Club.”

All photos by Emanuelle Oliveira.

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