Rainbow flag outside a house

Armistead Maupin on Tales of the City

Where and how does the LGBTQ community view themselves in literature? Join author Armistead Maupin to discover how over 40 years, the Tales of the City stories shaped his life and captured the spirit of the LGBTQ movement.

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.

Steven Dryden
  • Steven Dryden
  • Steven Dryden is a Sound Archive and Humanities Reference Specialist at the British Library. Steven co-curated Gay UK: Love, Law and Liberty (2017, British Library) and led a series of student workshops and public lectures at the Department of Women, Gender and Sexuality at Harvard University, USA (2018).

    Steven’s primary research interest is in the use of language by heritage institutions. His recent work has focused on the cataloguing of gender and sexual minorities in archive and museum catalogues. Steven develops content for the British Library LGBTQ Histories website and has spoken widely across Europe and the UK.