May 13, 2022 Queer Forty.com
May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in the U.S. and lesbian author Malinda Lo’s award-winning book Last Night At the Telegraph Club is a highly-recommended read.
At a time when Asian Americans are facing an exponential rise in hate crimes and street violence and Asian-American women have been murdered in hate crimes in New York City and Atlanta, Malinda Lo’s work stands as a testament to addressing such animus in fiction and opening discourse on what it is to be an Asian immigrant in America.
Malinda Lo’s young adult novel, Last Night at the Telegraph Club, is a New York Times Bestseller. Lo’s book is also winner of the National Book Award, the Stonewall Book Award, the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature and is a Michael L. Printz Honor Book. In addition, the novel was a finalist for three other prestigious awards and on the best books of 2021 lists of 16 different publications and organizations. The New York, Boston and Chicago Public Libraries all named Last Night at the Telegraph Club their best young adult/teen book of 2021.
When Queer Forty interviewed Lo by phone from her home in Boston, she was still coming off the excitement of winning the National Book Award. “At this point it has finally sunk in,” she said. “I am so honored to receive this award.” Lo said, “I was so anxious for like two weeks before the event. I couldn’t eat, I was really nauseous. I was really disappointed when the event was virtual because I really wanted to thank everyone who was involved in this book in person—my editor, my agent, my publisher.”
She continued, “So I heard it—my name—and I was here in my home in the room where I always write, where I am talking to you from now. I wrote the speech beforehand. And I was so glad I did because I got to say all the things I wanted to say and if I had been there in person it probably would have been really different and distracting.”
Lo said, “It wasn’t until later that it began to sink in. My social media wouldn’t stop.” For years Lo has been working at raising consciousness for diversity in books—particularly young adult books, working with We Need Diverse Books. She said, “I felt like that work [on diverse books] was seen by the judging committee [for the National Book Award].” She adds, “I want to express how incredibly stunned I was to win. It felt a little like winning the lottery."
Last Night at the Telegraph Club is set in San Francisco’s Chinatown in 1954, during the height of
the anti-Communist wave that swept the U.S. and Congress. Republican Sen. Joseph McCarthy led
Senate hearings from 1953 throughout 1954 on
what he stated was Communist influence and infiltration. It is against this fraught backdrop that especially demonized homosexuals and immigrants that Lo’s novel is set