Last week, at the 2022 ALA Youth Media Awards, Malinda Lo won the Stonewall Book Award and the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature, as well as Michael L. Printz and Walter Dean Myers honors for her National Book Award-winning YA novel Last Night at the Telegraph Club (Dutton Books for Young Readers). Her debut novel, Ash, a Sapphic retelling of Cinderella, was a finalist for the William C. Morris YA Debut Award, the Andre Norton Award for YA Science Fiction and Fantasy, the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award and the Lambda Literary Award. Lo lives in Massachusetts with her wife and their dog.
Last Night at the Telegraph Club is having a big year. How are you feeling?
I'm feeling so grateful to everyone who worked on the committees for every single one of those awards and lists, who made the time to read so many books (during a pandemic!) and who saw what I was trying to do with Last Night at the Telegraph Club. I truly feel honored, and I'm proud of what I accomplished with this novel. I also have to shout out my editor, Andrew Karre, who contributed so much to making this novel as good as it could be.
This is your first young adult historical fiction, correct? What inspired you to write it?
Yes, this is my first historical novel. It began as a short story, which was published in the anthology All Out: The No-Longer-Secret Stories of Queer Teens Throughout the Ages. The story was inspired by two histories I was reading, one about the women computers who worked at the Jet Propulsion Lab in the 1940s and '50s, and one about the history of queer San Francisco. These two histories aren't related to each other, but in my mind they combined to inspire the character of Lily, a 17-year-old Chinese American girl who wants to be a rocket scientist, and who also suspects she is a lesbian.
Why did you want to write this book now?
It was my agent, Michael Bourret, who suggested that Lily's story was bigger than the short story. When I thought about it, I realized he was right. I had a lot more to say about Lily. That was back in early 2017, at the start of the Trump administration, and the story I wanted to tell seemed to have many parallels for contemporary life. It took me three years to write it, but those parallels kept coming the entire time. History does seem to repeat itself, unfortunately.
How does it feel to see your queer girls receive so much love?
It's wonderful. I'm thrilled that readers love Lily and Kath so much!
What do you hope Last Night at the Telegraph Club brings to readers? Is there anything specific you want readers to get from it?
I hope readers will be able to step into Lily's life when they open this book. I want them to be able to feel what Lily feels, and to experience the world of 1950s San Francisco as she knows it. One of the most magical things about books is that they enable you to walk in someone else's shoes for a while, and that's such a powerful experience.
Are you working on anything new?
I'm preparing for the release of my next novel, A Scatter of Light, which comes out in the fall. It's sort of a companion novel to Last Night at the Telegraph Club, but it's set 60 years later, in 2013. You'll find out what happens to some of your favorite characters from Telegraph Club, but I'm warning you now, it's not a direct sequel. It's about an 18-year-old girl named Aria during the summer after high school, when she lives with her grandmother, an artist, and experiences a complicated first love. It's about art and self-discovery.
Is there anything else you'd like to tell Shelf Awareness readers?
Yes. Every reader is part of making a book a success. Whether they buy it at a bookstore or check it out from their library, whether they leave a review on Goodreads or tell a friend about it, readers and booksellers and librarians all contribute to a book's success. Word of mouth is so important. I want to say thanks to everyone who has helped bring Last Night at the Telegraph Club to new readers. --Siân Gaetano, children's/YA editor, Shelf Awareness