Vermont Humanities

Leading a Book Discussion

Painting of two girls in 1950s San Francisco in a corner under a streetlamp
Vermont Reads

Note: we strongly recommend using a trained facilitator via our Reading & Discussion program for community discussions centered around Last Night at the Telegraph Club and its themes.

Vermont Humanities pays the discussion facilitator a $275 stipend for each session. The facilitator leads each event, beginning with a 10-15 minute presentation on the text, followed by a participatory discussion. Each session lasts about 90 minutes.

New this year!

We are offering each Vermont Reads host organization one free discussion of Last Night at the Telegraph Club, led by one of our trained facilitators. Please contact one of the facilitators listed below, then fill out our Vermont Reads Facilitated Discussion Form to schedule your session. Email us at if you have any questions.

Vermont Reads Facilitated Discussion Form

Vermont Reads 2023 Facilitators

Woman leading a book discussion group with a book open on her lap
Woman leading a book discussion group with a book open on her lap
Woman leading a book discussion group with a book open on her lap
Woman leading a book discussion group with a book open on her lap
Woman leading a book discussion group with a book open on her lap
Woman leading a book discussion group with a book open on her lap


Discussion Questions Based on the Book’s Text

  1. What assumptions do you have about people, places, and events of the 1950s? What did you read in Last Night at the Telegraph Club that challenges or complicates those assumptions?
  2. What themes and tensions does Lo set up for the novel in the prologue, particularly around race, nationalism, culture, and gender?
  3. When Lily returns home from the Eastern Pearl, she takes out the Tommy Andrews ad for the Telegraph Club and adds it to her other newspaper clippings. Why is this collection important to her? What does this tell us about Lily at this point in the novel? (chapter 2)
  4. After Lily’s father is interrogated by the FBI he says, “We’re living in a complicated time. People are afraid of things they don’t understand, and we need to show that we’re Americans first.” Why does he say this, and what is at stake for the Hu family? How might this experience parallel the experiences of immigrants today? (chapter 9)
  5. Lily tells Kath about her plan to work at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, but not everyone is as supportive of Lily’s dream job. How does Lily’s interest in space set her apart from—or align her with—the other women in her life? (chapter 12)
  6. Shirley “warns” Lily about Kath and then rejects Lily when she doesn’t come back inside at the dance. What role does Shirley and Lily’s friendship play in the story? (chapter 15)
  7. In the scenes at Sutro’s, Lo illustrates racial tension and racism between white and Chinese Americans after Lily and Shirley are assumed to be Japanese. What are the ways Lo does this? Why do Lily and Shirley react in the ways that they do? (chapter 27)
  8. Lily notices a difference in the way the women at the Telegraph Club talk about “the feds” and communism. What is different—or similar—about this conversation to the discussion Lily has with her parents about the FBI’s suspicion of Chinese Americans? (chapter 30)
  9. Lily experiences microaggressions when socializing with the women from the Telegraph Club; however, this time she also learns about a Chinese male impersonator, for whom she feels “immediately proud.” Why does Lo juxtapose these two experiences? When else does Lily encounter racism within the lesbian community? (chapter 31)
  10. Lo ends Parts I-V with memories from Joseph and Grace, Lily’s parents, and Judy, Lily’s aunt. How do these flashback scenes function in the story as a whole?
  11. When Lily’s mother says “There are no homosexuals in this family. […] Are you my daughter?”, what does she mean? How does Lily react to these comments and why? (chapter 40)
  12. What might have happened to Lily after she ran away from home if she had not remembered where Lana lived, or if Lana had not taken her in? (chapters 41–42)
  13. “And if her father wouldn’t lie, why should she?” When Lily comes out to her parents, it is complicated by her father’s immigration status and the cultural climate of the 1950s, and yet she refuses to lie to them. Why does she make the choices she makes? (chapter 47)
  14. “This was the world.” What does Lily mean by this when she is on the train to Pasadena? How does your interpretation influence your reading of the events that follow? (chapter 48)

Many of the above questions were written by Erica Gillingham, a queer poet, writer, and bookseller with a Ph.D. in lesbian love stories in young adult literature and graphic novels. Her thesis included a chapter dedicated to Malinda Lo’s fantasy and science fiction novels.

Discussion Questions Based on the Book’s Era and Setting

  1. A similar story to Last Night at the Telegraph Club could have taken place in other cities in the US. What specifics about the history of San Francisco provide the context for Lily Hu’s story? [The keys here are SF’s long-standing reputation from the gold rush days as a place of “outlaws” and tolerance, including for sexual nonconformity; the concentration of people of Chinese origin; the anticommunist crusade of the 1950s.]
  2. At the beginning of the story (the prologue through chapter 4 or so), how does Lo let us know of Lily’s interest in girls and her curiosity about same-sex love?
  3. What is the allure of Tommy Andrews for Lily? Why does she find herself drawn to Tommy and her performance? What role did spaces like the Telegraph Club play in the lives of gay people in the 1950s?
  4. In 1882 the Chinese Exclusion Act banned the immigration of Chinese people into the US and prohibited those already in the country from becoming citizens. This law remained in place until 1943; the new law allowed 105 Chinese to enter the US annually, and offered Chinese immigrants the prospect of citizenship and the right to vote. Why do you think the government made this change in policy?
  5. The short flashback chapter “Grace” at the end of Part IV (231–238) focuses on Lily’s mother’s experience of Madame Chiang Kai-shek’s 1943 visit to San Francisco’s Chinatown. Why does Lo include this memory in the book, and how does it provide context for telling Lily’s story?
  6. In 1950, there were 150,000 people of Chinese origin living in the US. Approximately 25,000 (17%) of them lived in San Francisco. How might this strong concentration of the Chinese American population have shaped the US government’s—including the FBI’s—attitudes and actions toward the Chinese in San Francisco? How does your answer illuminate the experiences of Lily and her family in the book?
  7. Compared with other immigrant groups and minorities, the Chinese were considered by white Americans to be more easily assimilated because of their perceived values of industriousness, reverence for family and education, and predisposition to accommodation and harmony. In what ways does such “self-stereotyping” by Chinese families appear in the book?
  8. How do the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II and the fighting of the Korean War between 1950 and 1953 help us understand the concerns expressed by Lily’s parents about some of the things she does?
  9. Along with the anticommunist Red Scare of the late 1940s and early 1950s there was a corresponding “Lavender Scare” targeting gay people working for the federal government. Into the 1960s more than 5,000 people lost their jobs to the Lavender Scare. Why would government leaders have linked these groups together and targeted both for persecution? How does awareness of these persecution campaigns help you understand Lily’s story?

Ideas for a Dynamic Discussion

  • Use a facilitator, preferably someone who loves literature, has experience leading discussions, and has taken the time to read and research the book carefully. They should be prepared with a list of stimulating questions  and should try to include everyone in the conversation. We will post a list of Reading and Discussion facilitators by the middle of July.
  • For in-person meetings, it is best to seat people in a circle. If the group is too large for this configuration, ask people to speak loudly and clearly so that everyone can hear, or, as appropriate, ask them to stand and face the group when talking. If your discussion needs to happen virtually, break-out rooms are helpful for large numbers.
  • Don’t forget the introductions! Be creative — in addition to stating their names, people might briefly share their general impressions of the book, their reason for attending, or something about the book for discussion.
  • Discussion facilitators should end the discussion with some kind of “closer.” One example is asking everyone (or, if the group is large, volunteers) to share a final thought about the book or the experience they just had discussing it. Or ask volunteers to read their favorite sentence or paragraph from the book.
  • Please plan to have space available after the group in case any one present would like to ask more questions one-on-one or get additional resources about anything that came up in the conversation.  Some participants may need one-on-one time after the group discussion.
  • If the discussion is in person, please serve refreshments!
Vermont Humanities*** March 6, 2023