Armistead Maupin on Tales of the City
- Article written by: Steven Dryden
Armistead Maupin has taken on totem like status since his weekly newspaper columns in the San Francisco Chronicle began to capture LGBTQ experience in San Francisco during the heady liberation days of the 1970s.
What Maupin wanted out of literature, and what he struggled to find, were stories that incorporated everyone. Stories that placed his life and experience as a gay man who grew up in a deeply conservative, racist and homophobic American South, within the context of the rest of world.
Many young LGBTQ people encountered representations of themselves as fully rounded human beings in the world that Maupin has created in his Tales of the City stories over the last five decades.
This wide-ranging conversation between Armistead Maupin and author Damian Barr was recorded at the British Library Knowledge Centre on 10 February 2014. Maupin was touring the world promoting the final instalment of Tales of The City, which was entitled The Days of Anna Madrigal.
In this story Anna Madrigal is the matriarch of the community who circles the fictional world of 28 Barbary Lane, and it seems fitting that the last book should explicitly reference her. A woman of mystery throughout the series, it was Madrigal’s trans identity which was most notable when the Tales of the City stories were published and later adapted for television.
Also featuring in the stories is Michael Tolliver, an iconic gay male character, who talks to Anna about the ever-changing nature of gender identity and his struggle to ‘keep up’. Anna’s response in The Days of Anna Madrigal sums up how many of us might start to process ideas that fly in the face of what we believe or think: ‘You don’t have to keep up, dear. You just have to keep open’.
Presented here in an edited format, the release commemorates London Pride 2020, which was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The full recording can be heard in the British Library Reading Rooms, and features a performance by Sarah Jane Morris of The Communards and a question/answer session with the audience.
This event was organised in association with Gay’s the Word Bookshop.
Maupin in conversation
A conversation between Armistead Maupin and Damian Barr on the release of The Days of Anna Madrigal, the last novel in the Tales of the City series.
Armistead Maupin was born in Washington, D.C. in 1944 but grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina. A graduate of the University of North Carolina, he served as a naval officer in the Mediterranean and with the River Patrol Force in Vietnam. Maupin worked as a reporter for a newspaper in Charleston, South Carolina, before being assigned to the San Francisco bureau of the Associated Press in 1971.
In 1976 he launched his groundbreaking Tales of the City serial in the San Francisco Chronicle. What began as a serial in a newspaper eventually grew into a nine-volumeseries of novels. Three mini-series starring Olympia Dukakis and Laura Linney were made from the first three Tales. His book, The Night Listener became a feature film starring Robin Williams and Toni Collette.
Maupin lives in London and San Francisco with his husband Christopher Turner.
Damian Barr is a writer, playwright and salonnière. Maggie & Me, his best-selling memoir of surviving Thatcher’s Britain became a Radio 4 Book of the Week (2013). Described by the Guardian as ‘one of the most well-connected men in publishing’, he is creator and host of his infamous Literary Salon and runs the Reading Weekend.
Shortlisted for a British Press Award, his features appear in The Times, The Telegraph, Guardian and Granta. He is an RSA Fellow, Faculty at The School of Life and a British-American Project Fellow. He keeps chickens and makes a fine martini.