Malinda Lo-Bringing a Wider Array of Characters Into Youth Literature

Becca Anderson, author of The Book of Awesome Women Writers, has written a new blog post on the life and career of writer Malinda Lo.

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Malinda Lo is a Chinese-born American journalist and the author of several critically acclaimed fantasy and science fiction novels, mostly aimed at the young adult market, as well as an academic researcher on diversity in books for young adults. With fellow YA author Cindy Pon, she is the cofounder of the “Diversity in YA” website and book tour promoting and celebrating representations of diversity in young adult literature. Since 2012, she has analyzed bestselling YA works and published her findings on how many have characters of color, disabled characters, and LGBTQ characters. (Hint: not nearly enough of them is the answer.)

Born in China in 1974, her family moved to the United States when she was three. She earned a bachelor’s degree at Wellesley College and went on for a master’s degree from Harvard in regional studies concentrating on East Asia, then did graduate work in cultural and social anthropology at Stanford, eventually obtaining a second master’s degree there. In 2006, the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association recognized her work at AfterEllen, a queer women’s cultural website, with the Sarah Pettit Memorial Award for Excellence in LGBT Journalism. Her nonfiction has run in many media outlets, notably including NPR and The New York Times Book Review. Before turning to writing novels as a profession, besides her academic pursuits, Lo worked as an editorial assistant and an entertainment reporter.

Her debut novel Ash (2009) is a retelling of the Cinderella story with a lesbian twist; it was nominated for several awards and was a Kirkus Best Book for Children and Teens. Interestingly, she hadn’t planned on Ash being a young adult title, but wrote it “without thinking about what genre it was.” Only in the process of working with agents to submit the book to publishers did that genre designation emerge. Lo followed it in 2011 with Huntress, a companion novel to Ash, which was named Best Book for Young Adults by the American Library Association. Huntress features strong female protagonists working to solve an ecological crisis and draws on the I Ching and other Chinese cultural traditions. Adaptation (2012) also includes aspects of ecocatastrophe, with flocks of birds flying into airplanes for no apparent reason; this contemporary science fiction thriller was named a Bank Street College Best Children’s Book. Its sequel, 2013’s Inheritance, was the winner of the 2014 Bisexual Book Awards for Bisexual Teen/Young Adult Fiction; it looks at the concept of “the other” both through human sexuality and Terran/alien relations. Lo left the terrain of fantasy and science fiction with the dark psychological thriller A Line in the Dark, a contemporary tale of social challenges among young women, again involving alternative sexuality; it was named a Kirkus Best YA Book of 2017.

Lo’s short story “Don’t Speak” appeared in the New York Times in 2019, and as of this writing, her novel Last Night at the Telegraph Club is expected soon; like Adaptation, it is set in San Francisco, but in the 1950s. It explores the intricacies of interactions between the city’s queer and Chinese-American communities. Malinda Lo lives in Massachusetts.


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