This is Mr Maupin. He invented San Francisco.
January 5, 2014 9:55 AM   Subscribe

On January 21, The Days of Anna Madrigal, the last in the Tales of the City series, will be released.

The series, which was first published in 1974 as installments in a Marin County newspaper, began with a narrative following a young woman named Mary Ann Singleton, who moves to San Francisco and meets a gay man, Michael Huxtable (who, in book form, is known as Michael Tolliver) and spans 40 years of San Francisco history, addressing transgender characters, sexuality, and AIDS. The novels have been made into a miniseries, a musical. as well as a choral piece regularly performed by GALA choruses.

Tales of the City map

Fun fact: The anagram that reveals Mrs. Madrigal’s secret in More Tales of the City was completely unintentional on Armistead’s part. One of the readers of his newspaper serial pointed it out to him.

posted by roomthreeseventeen (25 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
I'm a bit embarrassed to admit that I didn't even realize that Maupin was still alive, let alone still writing Tales stories. How amazing that he has given us this 40 year lightly-fictionalized chronicle of gay and straight life. I read many of the early books and watched the miniseries all many years ago as part of my "education" after I came out. It might be worth revisiting the books at this point in my life, 20-odd years later. We have them all on a shelf. Well, all except that last one.

Very cool Guardian profile, too. Thanks for posting!
posted by hippybear at 10:20 AM on January 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

I just reread the first one, since I'm participating in a role-playing game set in SF during that time and I had forgotten how great these were. I read them first in middle school and it's only upon encountering them now that I realize precisely how much of it went completely over my head back then. But I still retain fond memories of Mouse, Mona, Mary Anne, Brian, and everyone else. I suspect reading these so young is a significant factor in my liberal views of sex and being gay...
posted by skycrashesdown at 10:22 AM on January 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

the last few books are kind of unessecary, it seems...but the miniseries was great! Laura Linney!!
posted by PinkMoose at 10:35 AM on January 5, 2014

I'll never forget watching the first episode of the miniseries and being happy that something good and adult and made-in-America was on public TV. I then read approx. six of the books before feeling I had the gist. The plots were a little rambling and over-melodramatic, but you always sensed a journalist was writing it and telling you truths.
posted by acrasis at 10:36 AM on January 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

To any queer kids reading: If you want a fun, beautiful, heartfelt, idealized-but-still-true version of queer life in San Francisco in the 70s, read the first couple of Tales of the City collections. They're a blast. Very light reading in the sense that they were a soap opera serial, but full of depth and insight and joy and sorrow and all that, with what I recall as very warm, sharp and open views on feminism, trans issues, drugs, casual sex, politics, etc. I read the books as a semi-closeted college fledgling in the 80s and they went a long way toward humanizing my sense of the gay community - or even my sense that there was such a thing as a "gay community."

I sometimes used to roll my eyes at older queers who'd try to get me to understand What Had Come Before in gay culture, but damn, Tales of the City is an easy, hilarious, heartbreaking example of them being absolutely right.

Another fun fact: Maupin is from North Carolina and early in his career once worked for (and then repudiated) Jesse Helms:

Maupin worked at WRAL-TV (Channel 5) in Raleigh, a station then managed by future U.S. Senator Jesse Helms, who also delivered the station's well-known editorial segments throughout his management of the station in the 1960s. Helms nominated Maupin for a patriotic award, which he won. Maupin says he was a typical conservative and even a segregationist at this time and admired Helms, a family friend, as a "hero figure." He later changed his opinions dramatically — "I've changed and he hasn't" — and condemned Helms at a gay pride parade on the steps of the North Carolina State Capitol.
posted by mediareport at 10:40 AM on January 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

I read a few of the books - very enjoyable. Kind of a more interesting Three's Company.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:56 AM on January 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

Very cool Guardian profile, too.

Yeah, there's some great stuff there. The bit about Edmund White calling SF the place where "gay men came from across America to learn how to live gay lives" is true for me about Maupin's books. They really helped define being gay for me - but in an open, accepting, whatever-works-for-you kind of way instead of a "you must be Gay Like This" kind of way.

But however outlandish his characters and their adventures, Maupin's world always feels curiously wholesome.

That was a big part of the appeal for me at the time, the idea that being gay and doing drugs and having gay sex could be, goddammit, wholesome and right. I mean, there's a lot more morality to the books than that, and they don't shy away from consequences, but they stand as a vision of positive, intelligent queerness that I think holds up well as still valuable. Again, highly recommended for young gltb folks.
posted by mediareport at 11:12 AM on January 5, 2014 [5 favorites]

"The world changes in direct proportion to the number of people willing to be honest about their lives." (from the Grauniad link).

That statement may sound obvious or clichéd to some but it's still quietly amazing.

Didn't know Maupin was still going. Must go and catch up with his stuff.
posted by El Brendano at 11:20 AM on January 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

Chiming in as another gay man who grew up reading his books throughout my own adolescence and self-actualization. I've never seen the mini-series, but pretty much everyone tells me it's worth the time investment.

Maupin goes to Burning Man every year, and I've always fantasized about running into him out there and going on a madcap adventure.
posted by mykescipark at 11:48 AM on January 5, 2014

I read through all of these in high school, well before I knew much of SF geography (early/mid-90s). Looking at the map linked above, it’s interesting to see how far south the epicenter of City activity has shifted. Most of Tales focuses on North Beach, Russian Hill, and other now-tony parts of the city, with very little attention to SOMA, Mission, and other parts of SF that would now be home to stories like this.
posted by migurski at 12:17 PM on January 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

Yes!! A new Tales of the City book!

When I was a kid I was allowed free run of the local public library, so I read any and everything I could get my hands on; some of the adult fiction I read was puzzling, and some was upsetting, but the Tales of The City books were just really lovely stories that I consumed like comfort food. It was so easy to care about the characters and want to know what would happen next in their lives, and the descriptions of life in San Francisco were magical. I adored the sense of community and love between the characters. They were a family.

I didn't know much about homosexuality when I was growing up--my town was fairly small and conservative, and my parents didn't talk about sexuality with us kids--so my ideas were all informed by things I heard at school, or stuff I read, or what was on TV/in the movies. Maupin's books definitely helped counteract the "gay people are weird scary perverts" messages I was getting from ignorant kids at school and unenlightened 1980s pop culture. I can only imagine how much of a balm Tales of the City would have been to an LGBT kid at the time.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:29 PM on January 5, 2014 [6 favorites]

My 50th birthday! What a great present to look forward to!

If you haven't read it, Mary Ann in Autumn (the most recent in the anthology, published a couple of years ago) is beautiful and incorporates long-lost, minor, and tragic characters all the way back in the first book.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 1:16 PM on January 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I started reading Tales of the City in the fifth grade, I think a year or two before it came to KQED. It was the Basketball Diaries that got teachers to alert my parents. But, Tales was inspirational and educational enough I recently gave a copy to my 15-year-old niece.
posted by parmanparman at 1:25 PM on January 5, 2014

I once bought a book by Armistead Maupin knowing nothing about him or the book, just because of his freakishly perfect name.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 2:38 PM on January 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

Oh, I really love the cover...
posted by Ian A.T. at 2:50 PM on January 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yes Mr. Maupin is alive and well, enjoying his retirement in Santa Fe with his scandalously deliciously younger lover Christopher Turner.

Those early Tales books are so lovely. And definitely a period piece, I think that era of gay culture (and hippy culture, and San Francisco culture) are as unimaginable to young queers today as the life of Quentin Crisp or Harry Hay was to me. And on the balance I think that's a good thing, I'm OK with the assimilation that comes along with dignity and civil rights. But you still gotta put up the hair and put on your pearls sometimes though, darlings.
posted by Nelson at 9:30 PM on January 5, 2014

If you haven't read it, Mary Ann in Autumn (the most recent in the anthology, published a couple of years ago) is beautiful and incorporates long-lost, minor, and tragic characters all the way back in the first book.

I loved this book for how it redeemed Mary Ann, whom he really seemed to crap on toward the initial endings of the series. I have always wondered why he soured on the character who initially saw, and loved, San Francisco as a non-native daughter -- why he had to cast her out of paradise.

I read the series not long after moving to San Francisco on impulse in '96, and I so identified with Mary Ann, who basically did the same thing 20 years earlier. It was such a shock to see her story arc over five books when I read them over a month.

I'll definitely be reading this latest one. I want to see how it goes, whether the San-Francisco-is-yours torch gets/stays passed to Shawna and Jake.
posted by sobell at 10:24 PM on January 5, 2014

I'm wondering about what happens with Jake and the Mormon guy....will he get pregnant before he can get a hysterectomy?
posted by brujita at 12:19 AM on January 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm participating in a role-playing game set in SF during that time

That sounds awesome! As long as there are no vampires. I mean, some of my best friends are vampires and I'm not here to judge. But come on.
posted by freebird at 12:21 AM on January 6, 2014

I'll have to revisit this series, especially as a) I haven't read them in 20 years and b) I had no idea that he'd picked it up again after Sure of You.
posted by Halloween Jack at 4:43 AM on January 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Love this series!
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 8:26 AM on January 6, 2014

If you (like me) haven't read these yet, Amazon is having a sale on the Kindle editions of both Tales of the City and More Tales of the City right now. I enjoyed the first two miniseries, so I'm looking forward to reading them now.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 10:59 AM on January 6, 2014

Worth noting, Maupin's husband Christopher Turner is one of the men behind Pantheon Productions and Daddyhunt.

My husband and I (who also have an age gap) sat next to them in a Mission Vietnamese restaurant a couple of years ago and I couldn't do much more than smile very broadly. I'm not one to get awestruck by personalities, but that dude wrote books that were my guide lights through rural Arkansas in those years when gay was not ok. It felt good to be that kind of awestruck without mustering the courage to put that kind of moment into poorly chosen (and probably unwanted, ill-timed) words. I'm also thrilled that this book is being released three days after we finally make our long dreamed move to San Francisco.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 11:49 AM on January 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

He's been a major influence on me in being one of the last of the great serialists, and I wish the structures existed to let him return to that form rather than keeping him stuck in the novelist straitjacket, because there's a pacing and lightness that comes from the ritual of writing regular episodes that's distinct from the flow of a novel and is a good part of why the serialized Tales books have a bit more air and space to them (though the oncoming catastrophe of AIDS was another good cause for the change in tone).

Enjoyed the return to form of Mary Ann In Autumn (though I wish it had been a bit longer and at a somewhat more leisurely pace), and I'm looking forward to this one, too.
posted by sonascope at 7:16 PM on January 6, 2014

I lived in SF [don't call it Frisco] for twelve years ending at the century mark. I would feel remiss if I didn't mention Herb Caen. For me they were a tandem that gently spanned gossip and not gossip.
posted by vapidave at 4:18 PM on January 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

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