Award-winning author Malinda Lo visits Simmons University


Image via Simmons University

Alanna Quirk-Aboujaoude, Staff Writer

On October 12 Malinda Lo visited Simmons University to discuss her award-winning book Last Night at the Telegraph Club, the first-year read at Simmons for the class of 2026. 

Published in 2021, Last Night at the Telegraph Club follows Lily Hu, a Chinese-American teen living in San Francisco in 1954, figuring out and coming to terms with her sexuality. 

First-year students Tilly Eldar and Marzieh Darling-Donnelly introduced Lo after winning a contest to do so.

In an interview with the Voice, Eldar said “as a queer woman who grew up in San Francisco, I connected with Lily on a deep deep level… Being that familiar with the space where this book took place and then just connecting with the book’s themes in general just made me want to talk to Lo and be a small part of trying to get others to connect in the way I did.”

Lo’s talk was warm and witty, even when talking about the serious themes of the book. She managed to keep it lighthearted, inspiring, and conversational. She began by talking about how she always wanted to be a writer, saying how there was “never a lightbulb moment,” it was simply something she had always wanted to do. 

A main focus of hers while writing was the research she had put into the book. As historical fiction, with timelines throughout the chapters, it was important to gain correct information. With little public discussion on queer Chinese-American at the time, Lo stated that “lots of my research was like detective work” which involved looking through yearbooks, newspapers, and more. 

There are themes of the Red Scare and Communism throughout the book. At the same time those themes are presented, readers also watch as Lily falls for her classmate named Kath Miller. From there, she begins to branch into her own person and who she is supposed to be. 

After the talk, Dr. Laura Prieto, Professor of History at Simmons, asked Lo questions including what the inspiration behind Last Night at the Telegraph Club was. 

Lo’s idea for the novel which was originally only supposed to be a short story came from two nonfiction books, Wide Open Town by Nan Alamilla Boyd and Rise of the Rocket Girls by Natalia Holt. From those two stories, she said she was able to create the character of Lily, although it was not a direct process. Lo reflected “ideas are really interesting in that I don’t think there’s ever really one seed. There are many little droplets, and they kind of come together and say, ‘think about me.’”

The event ended with questions from the audience, both on Zoom and in person. As a closing question, an audience member asked if Lo had any advice for people who were aspiring writers. 

She responded by saying “don’t give up because a lot of people are going to tell you to give up. Life in general, it’s going to tell you to give up. Don’t give up. If that’s what you really want to do, you have to believe in it. You have to believe that you can do it.”