Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin – My self guided tour of San Francisco

by Jason Dutton-Smith
February 2, 2015
More Than Route 66 | USA Travel Blog | Blog on America

Our Most Viewed Blog Articles in 2014 Are…

Our 2014 goal of more travel was certainly achieved and a resolution we didn’t mind keeping! So much so that we decided to keep the same resolution in 2015. We wrote about just some of those wonderful travel experiences here and we have loved sharing them with you. So we thought we’d take a quick look at some of our most popular blogs last year. Here is a look at the highlights of 2014. (To see the entire list, click here).

Webmaster Note:  Don’t forget to visit http://www.toursofthetales.com for self-guided downloadable tours created by Larry Rhodes.

# 6 Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin – My self guided tour of San Francisco

“This is a must read!” a friend of mine exclaimed with excitement “but be warned, you’ll be hooked from the start!” Snickering under my breath I studied the front cover and wondered what this Tales of the City was all about. I mean we’ve all heard the claim before – the one that will supposedly rock our world, one that we just won’t be able to put down. Well, as it turns out, he was right.

Tales of the City brings a diverse range of friends together, in the liberated, go-go world of 1970s San Francisco. Each kooky and lovable character is brought richly to life by the writer, one Armistead Maupin who tantalizingly shares with us the drama, silly shenanigans and heartbreak of 28 Barbary Lane, the apartment complex where much of the story is set.

With a devoted following, the books have long since achieved classic status and the Tales of the City series goes on to finish with its last three books which were released in 2007, 2010 and 2014. I soon found that I was reading them every chance I could, morning and night. What has this friend done to me? I had become obsessed! So there was only one thing to do after that.

Tales, More Tales and Further Tales of the City…
After reading these raw, honest and beautifully written books, I become equally excited when I found out that the first three books were turned into a made-for-TV mini-series. This is one DVD box set that I had to get!

With a wonderful cast and the beautiful city of San Francisco as a backdrop, the characters, and the vibrant city were suddenly brought to life, all while remaining true to the books. If it’s possible, the books were even enhanced by this cleverly adopted TV mini-series. And they were all there, from Michael ‘Mouse’ Tolliver, his best friend Mona, kooky and mysterious landlady Mrs Madrigal, the innocent and slightly naive Mary-Anne Singleton and many more.

As it turns out, there are many ‘tales’ to this city. The well developed characters and fascinating story line reveal twists and turns at every corner. We soon find out that nothing is what it seems at the famous 28 Barbary Lane – and everyone has a secret.

Map, camera, action…
Last week during a quick visit to San Francisco for business I found myself with a few hours to spare and knew exactly what I was going to do. Having only been in America for a few days, my jet-lag was still pestering me and I found myself awake early. So I readied myself for the early start and rugged up to brave the crisp and biting San Francisco air as the morning fog continued rolling in across the bay. I grabbed my map and set out on foot for my very own Tales of the City tour.

Now anyone that has been to San Francisco understands just how steep the streets can be. It’s quite a work out when on foot and thankfully the first part was downhill, but I was ready to discover what I could in the short few hours I had available.

Setting off from the top of Nob Hill I weaved past several landmarks and points of interest from the book and movies, winding down to Russian Hill and ending alongside Fisherman’s Wharf. While only able to cover a small portion of the many scenes in the books and mini-series, I thoroughly enjoyed what I had seen. Here are a few snaps of what I discovered along the way.

I started with this map from Armistead Maupin’s website where it plots the main locations from the books and mini-series.

Tales of the City locations pinned to a map available on Armistead Maupin’s website.

Tales of the City locations pinned to a map available on Armistead Maupin’s website.

I then made my way to where it all started. The famous steps of 28 Barbary Lane. The real name is actually Macondray Lane, located between Green and Union St on Taylor St. Blink and you will miss it but once there be sure to walk to the top of the stairs and along the lane itself to see some the best of San Francisco architecture and scenery.

28 Barbary Lane – aka Macondray Lane

28 Barbary Lane – aka Macondray Lane

Top of stairs at 28 Barbary Lane

Top of stairs at 28 Barbary Lane


Stairs of 28 Barbary Lane

Stairs of 28 Barbary Lane


View from top of stairs – 28 Barbary Lane. Overlooking the foggy bay and city.

View from top of stairs – 28 Barbary Lane. Overlooking the foggy bay and city.


View of lane way of 28 Barbary Lane

View of lane way of 28 Barbary Lane

Dede and Beauchamp’s penthouse apartment in the mini-series was located at 1360 Montgomary Street, Nob Hill. This famous building has been used in other films, most notably in the 1958 Alfred Hitchcock thriller Vertigo.

Dede and Beachamp’s apartment – 1000 Mason St

Dede and Beachamp’s apartment – 1000 Mason St

When Mary Ann Singleton first went to San Francisco for an 8 day holiday, she found herself in the popular bar of the Buena Vista on day five drinking Irish Coffee and contemplating what was ahead of her. Should she stay in San Francisco? Mary Ann then left the bar to call her mother back in Cleveland, Ohio.

Buena Vista – 2765 Hyde Street near Fisherman’s Wharf. Where Mary Ann Singleton drank on arrival to San Francisco.

Buena Vista – 2765 Hyde Street near Fisherman’s Wharf. Where Mary Ann Singleton drank on arrival to San Francisco.

Anna Madrigal would meet Edgar Halcyon in different parks around the city. They would often meet to have lunch, talk and laugh about life and the problems of the day. Washington Square Park was one of these parks.

Washington Square park – a meeting location of Anna Madrigal and Edgar Halcyon. Cnr Columbus and union Street.

Washington Square park – a meeting location of Anna Madrigal and Edgar Halcyon. Cnr Columbus and union Street.

In the second book More Tales of the City Mary Ann met a handsome stranger by the name of Burke Andrew during a cruise to Mexico with friend Michael. Burke, suffering from amnesia began to have rose triggered flashbacks. The rose decorated stained-glass window of Grace Cathedral became an integral part in this mysterious story line.

Grace Cathedral – The rose window that gave Burke flash backs. 1100 California Street.

Grace Cathedral – The rose window that gave Burke flash backs. 1100 California Street.

Beauchamp, Dede’s husband at the time was an interesting character. The secretive, handsome and popular Beauchamp Day would often mingle and conduct business with other socialites and dignitary at the Pacific Union Club. This exclusive club was a beautiful brown coloured building that sat high and proud on top of Nob Hill.

Pacific Union Club – Visited by Beauchamp Day – 1000 California Street

Pacific Union Club – Visited by Beauchamp Day – 1000 California Street

Although this was a completely fictitious series of novels, the characters are so intriguing and lovable, most with an innocent and often hilarious side that I can highly recommend reading the series. And next time you find yourself lost in the city of San Francisco, create your own memorable tales of the city.

For a personally signed copy of the books, visit Armistead Maupin’s website.



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Fascinating People :: Armistead Maupin

by Kilian Melloy
Monday Feb 2, 2015

For nearly four decades readers have thrilled, laughed, gasped, and cried along with a host of beloved characters created by Armistead Maupin, the author of the “Tales of the City” novels.

Michael “Mouse” Tolliver. Mary Ann Singleton. Brian Hawkins. Mona Ramsey. Mother Mucca. DeDe Day and her partner D’Orothea Wilson and their twin children. And, of course, the matriarch who drew them all together, Mrs. Madrigal – Anna Madrigal, that is, whose name rhymes with “magical.” The name also turns out to be an anagram… and, as we find out in “The Days of Anna Madrigal,” the ninth and final book in the series, that name is so much more: It harkens back to the pain of adolescence and first love.

Between the writing of the sixth and seventh books – “Sure of You” and “Michael Tolliver Lives!” – about a decade and a half elapsed during which time Maupin wrote other novels such as “Maybe the Moon” and “The Night Listener,” and saw the first three “Tales of the City” books adapted into a trio of miniseries starring Laura Linney as Mary Ann and Olympia Dukakis as Mrs. Madrigal. The books also inspired musical interpretations: San Francisco male choir Chanticleer produced a program of period music called “Anna Madrigal Remembers,” and the Seattle Men’s Chorus performed a similar program of period music titled “Tunes from Tales (or, Music for Mouse).” Later on, Scissor Sisters frontman Jake Shears and “Avenue Q” writer Jeff Whittey teamed up to create a musical based on the books.

In a 2010 interview with EDGE, Maupin discussed how “Michael Tolliver Lives!” started out as a non-“Tales” novel. “”I began by wanting to write a novel about a middle aged gay man who was surviving AIDS after many years,” Maupin recalled. “Initially, that was going to be a brand-new invention, but I realized that I had a great advantage in Michael Tolliver, in that people know his history and his life resonated for people in a way that a brand new character might not. I told the story that I wanted to tell, but focus on just one of the ‘Tales’ characters. A number of others, as you know, began to ‘audition’ for me, and eventually found their way into the story.”

Once Maupin picked up the thread, he continued with “Mary Ann in Autumn,” in which Michael’s former best friend makes a return to San Francisco after twenty years of Middle America domesticity (and, not incidentally, ties up a long-dangling… so to speak… loose end).

And now we come to the end. The final installment – or chapter, if you like, given how the corpus of “Tales” titles read like one epic novel, a Great American Novel in both length and significance – finds Anna Madrigal casting her mind back to defining early experiences even as she undertakes one more big adventure. Both the flashbacks and the contemporary action take place in the desert. The sections set in Anna’s youth (as a boy named Andy who’s starting to figure out that, body type notwithstanding, he’s really a girl) are set at the Blue Moon Lodge, a Nevada brothel run by Anna’s mother. In the present day, ninety-two-year-old Anna heads off to Burning Man with Brian and his new wife – the same destination for which Michael and his husband have set out.

“The Days of Anna Madrigal” first hit shelves in a hardcover edition last year. Now the book is reaching the market in paperback form. It’s the perfect moment to catch up with the creator of

EDGE: Armistead Maupin, it’s a pleasure to chat with such a fascinating writer, the author of the hugely entertaining and influential “Tales of the City” novels. I can’t resist starting with a personal query – being from Santa Fe, New Mexico, I took notice when you and your husband lived there.

Armistead Maupin: Yes we did, for about a year and a half.

EDGE: But now, I understand, you are back in San Francisco?

Armistead Maupin: We came back here last May. We still own a little ranch there and like the notion of returning two or three times a year, but we want to spend most of our time in San Francisco. It’s a magical place; our place is up in Tesuque, and there’s nothing grander than standing out under the stars at night, I’m completely in love with the area, bit I needed more city life. It’s a balance that we all need, and I’m lucky enough to be able to pull it off. We actually rent out our Santa Fe home now, and it helps us pay off our little apartment in San Francisco.

EDGE: With its colorful characters and flamboyant plots, social commentary, and serialization, Tales of the City – especially the early books in the series – seem to partake in a Dickensian style. At the same time, TOTC is, taken all together and in its own way, a Great American Novel, both in length and significance. Was the Dickens mold and GAN part of your overall vision?

Armistead Maupin: Very early in my career, Christopher Isherwood compared me to Dickens, and I realized I had better get on the stick and be more like him. Yes, to answer your question, I’ve always loved the way in which Dickens combined great storytelling with a social message. In fact, when Tales of the City was first optioned by Warner Bros as a feature film, they dropped a hint that most of the gay characters would have to be removed. I told them that taking the gay characters out of “Tales of the City” would be like taking the poor people out of Dickens. It simply won’t work. The charm of the piece is that everybody gets to play.

EDGE: It’s also a bit like reading Zola – you know, the way the entire “Tales of the City” series feels like one big novel in nine parts.

Armistead Maupin: I felt that it had that shape [it needed] to be in, and I was very happy about that. The challenge all along was to make each novel self-contained, but also make it part of a greater whole and make sure that an arc was maintained through all those novels.

EDGE: Things have changed since 1976, when the first “Tales of the City” novel was being serialized in The San Francisco Chronicle. The Supreme Court is set to rule this summer, potentially, on the nationwide status of marriage equality, but state pols still pushing gay bashing laws. What would “victory” for our community actually mean? And how close are we to it?

Armistead Maupin: I think we’re getting closer every day, and I think those politicians are basically placating the lowest elements of their base. Eventually, they’ll be in the same boast as segregationist politicians found themselves in – that is to say, having to keep their mouths shut, because the country at large regards that as bigoted behavior.

EDGE: Rightly so… in my humble opinion, anyway.

Armistead Maupin: I would think so, if you’re writing for EDGE!


EDGE: Did you sit down to write “The Days of Anna Madrigal” thinking this would be the grand finale for the “Tales of the City” books?

Armistead Maupin: Yes, I knew when I sat down to write it that I wanted it to be the ninth and final volume. I saw a way in which I could make the whole thing have a shape – that is to say, that all nine novels could connect with each other and come full circle in a way that would be very satisfying to the reader. Halfway through it I wasn’t completely convinced I had found the appropriate ending, but once I found the ending I let out a little yelp of joy because I realized it was exactly what I should have done. Sometimes you have that kind of confidence about your writing and sometimes you don’t; this time, I felt that I had really landed it. Most of the critics seem to have said the same thing. I would be less confident about it if that hadn’t happened.

EDGE: Listen, ignore the critics. I say that, and I am a critic!


I have to say, though, I did think the series came to a perfect close. But I also have to tell you that one cold, icy day as I was riding home on the bus, the book in hand, I reached a part where it seemed that a beloved character had died – I was a wreck! I just about burst into tears of grief right there!


Armistead Maupin: Thank you… I justify that particular incident as something that happened to me, and my husband urged me to write about it so I worked it into the story. I don’t want to say too much about it for those who haven’t read the book, but it’s safe to say that scare was very much autobiographical.

EDGE: The whole episode had that touch of realism about it – a magical realism, actually, because you set a good deal of the novel at Burning Man. How did you end up writing about Anna Madrigal’s defining early experiences while also taking her to Burning Man for this last adventure?

Armistead Maupin: Again, I have my husband to thank. He dragged me there kicking and screaming several years ago, and I had a marvelous time and ended up realizing that it had enormous potential for my storytelling purposes. That playa is the land of serendipity. Almost anything can happen, and very few things can be planned because call phones don’t work out there. People throw themselves into adventures that they don’t see coming, and bump into people that they don’t expect to see. All of that describes the general flavor of “Tales of the City.”

EDGE: As a reader, I very much agree! I thought the Burning Man experience as you describe it here feels like coming back to San Francisco in the 1970s, when it was still a place for the gay element, or the queer element… a place of alternatives, so to speak.

Armistead Maupin: That was how it felt to me, too, in terms of being able to do all those things in a phantasmagorical environment, and make it relatively believable. It is a singular experience. I describe Burning Man in the novel as a “Fellini carnival on Mars,” and that applies to a lot of early episodes of “Tales of the City.” When I was writing it I was struck by the similarity to the camps I was writing about in “Significant Others,” when I was writing about the old Republican farts in the woods up the Russian River [at a camp called Bohemian Grove], and the adjacent camp of feminists called Wimminwood. I found that the dynamics of all three of those festivals were very similar in that there are certain rules that have to be enforced, and there’s great comedy to be found in that.

EDGE: Anna is hailed as a hero in the book, and she is a literary hero in real life also, especially for the trans community – all the more so since she came onto the scene so early. Well before “Orange is the New Black” or anything else we’re seeing now that celebrates the trans community.

Armistead Maupin: About forty years before!


What she was, was considered so controversial by the newspaper back in 1976 that they wouldn’t let me reveal her transgender nature for an entire year. In some ways, that ended up working to me advantage, as people came to love her and could not place her into the category of “freak” and thereby discredit her or judge her unduly. Once they knew her, they were willing to understand and love her. And this was at a time when transgender people were much less open about who they were because of the danger of being ostracized.”

EDGE: That’s still a very real danger, with real consequences. There’s a lot of anti-trans violence out there, unfortunately.

Armistead Maupin: Absolutely, It’s in some ways worse than ever because there are so-called Christian groups, fundamentalist groups of every stripe, and also Islamic fundamentalists, who are prepared to do violence against LGBT people. When there was less discussion of the issue, there was a greater chance to remain out of sight.

EDGE: Being a GLBT celebrity yourself, what’s your feeling about fame, and about being held up for admiration, or as a spokesman for this community?

Armistead Maupin: I don’t see myself as a spokesman for anyone but myself, but I’m delighted if my work has been of help to others. The things I hear most often is my books saved someone’s life or helped them decide who they wanted to be, or where they wanted to be, and that’s enormously gratifying. I can’t think of anything else that would thrill me more as a writer or as a person that to have made a difference in the lives of others. I think “Tales” has succeeded precisely because I have made it so personal, and I’ve allowed it to reflect the changes that have happened in my own life. When AIDS came along, when I lost one of my closest friends to AIDS in 1982, I removed a character [Jon], who [was depicted as already having] died when the novel [“Further Tales of the City,” the third book in the series] began. Any time I’ve had a breakup, or any major life event, I’ve tried to use it. And I don’t just use it with Michael; I use it with all the characters. I think the writer’s job is basically a transgender task: We have to inhabit everybody, male and female, gay and straight, young and old, and we have to do that with empathy.

EDGE: Readers have embraced these characters in a way that’s rare and special. As a writer, having inhabited those characters as you’ve just described, and having drawn on yourself for those characters, were you surprised at how that happened?

Armistead Maupin: It’s been a gradual process, but I began to hear it early on – that people related to the characters. At that point I realized that the best thing I could do was to remain true to my own instincts – to report on the less attractive aspects of my life as well as the ones that might be charming. Everyone feels a sense of relief when they realize their own foibles are reflected in fiction.

EDGE: These characters are not perfect; they’re not given to us as perfect, nor supposed to be perfect. We wouldn’t love them if they were perfect.

Armistead Maupin: No, I don’t think so. And they wouldn’t have become as real as they seem to have become if they were perfect. I’m not sugar coating the experience of LGBT life; at the same time, I’m not approaching it with the notion that everything is dire and dark. A lot of fiction about gay men when I started writing “Tales” took on a very somber, grim, fatalistic, “Oh, Woe is Me” tone, and that wasn’t what I was seeing in San Francisco. I was seeing a lot of people who had led very shut down lives in some other place suddenly blossoming, becoming joyful, celebrating sex, finding friends, and becoming themselves for the first time in their lives, sometimes at a relatively advanced age. My adolescence happened in my early thirties…


All those straight boys get to stand on the corner and watch the girls go by when they are fifteen. Gay boys, at least in those days, didn’t get to do that, if you know what I mean with the metaphor…


EDGE: What will you do if Michael Mouse or Mary Ann Singleton start whispering in your ear about new stories? Might they make cameos in new, non-“Tales of the City” work? You have a tradition of such cameos already, for example in your novel “The Night Listener,” and that’s a bit of fun for “Tales of the City” fans.

Armistead Maupin: I doubt it, but I never say never. I have been wrong about [such predictions] in the past. But I really think any story I have to tell at this point I can do through new characters.

EDGE: What new projects might you be working on?

Armistead Maupin: At the moment, I’m working on a memoir that takes me from my early days as a young conservative in North Carolina right up to finding liberation in San Francisco. There are many stories I’ve been telling people for years, and invariably I’m told I should put them in a memoir – so I think that’s what’s about to happen. I’m sticking my toe in the water, anyway, reading bits and pieces of it to audiences when I tour. It’s tentatively titled “Logical Family,” and I suppose you could say that’s a big borrow from “Tales of the City.” Mrs. Madrigal would always say that we all have our biological family and our logical family, the one that actually makes sense for us.

EDGE: That’s that backbone for the entire series.

Armistead Maupin: Yes. I guess it pretty much is.
“The Days of Anna Madrigal is available in paperback from HarperCollins


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Armistead Maupin talks Anna Madrigal

By Paul Freeman
For The Daily News

More than six million copies sold. A phenomenon in countries around the world. A cherished PBS miniseries.

Few book series have been so ardently embraced by so many readers. But all good things must come to an end.

Author Armistead Maupin has apparently told the last tale in his beloved, groundbreaking “Tales of the City” series. The ninth and final installment of the captivating journey, “The Days of Anna Madrigal,” released in hardcover in January of 2014, has just been published in a paperback edition by Harper Perennial. Maupin will discuss the book at Kepler’s in Menlo Park tonight.

Mrs. Anna Madrigal, the 92-year-old transgender landlady of 28 Barbary Lane, San Francisco, inspires her colorful, multi-generational, “logical” (as opposed to biological) family. They comfort her, and vice-versa, in the closing chapters of her life. Some are on their way to pay tribute to her at Burning Man. Others are escorting her back to Winnemucca, Nev., where, as a boy, he grew up in a cathouse. There are ghosts to be faced. As with the rest of the “Tales,” this one brims with surprises, humor, poignancy and insights.

The New York Times review by Charles Isherwood said, “The satisfactions and the frustrations of love, sex and friendship are the meat of Mr. Maupin’s books, and there’s plenty of each here, with a happy-ending emphasis on the satisfactions.”

Maupin says he found gratification in saying goodbye to Anna and her friends. “I wanted to pay homage to all of the characters, in the right way,” he tells The Daily News. “And I think I succeeded. So by the time I’d arrived at the end, I was happy I’d gotten there.”

Maupin says he felt a sense of responsibility for readers who have been with him from the beginning, wanting to give them a satisfying sense of closure.

“It would have been a terrible tragedy if I hadn’t landed the plane on the aircraft carrier. I was very aware of the readers and their affection for the characters. And I wanted to make sure that I ended with a bang and not a whimper.”

“Tales of the City” began in 1974 as a newspaper serial. The fictional series has drawn from Maupin’s real-life experiences.

“I tried to use what I know. In the old days, that meant a lot of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. A little less of that these days. But it’s all life, all important to record. Writing is a way of making some sense out of chaos in life.”

In his writing, Maupin wanted to place the gay experience in the context of the larger world.

“It became very clear to me early on that that was going to be one of my functions, that I could show them the ways in which gay lives ran parallel to those of straight people. And then the way in which it was different, as well. But mostly I was attempting to lift the whole taboo of any discussion of homosexuality.

“It’s hard for people to realize today, but it was virtually banned from popular culture. You simply did not see gay lives reflected, certainly not in the daily newspaper.”

The stories’ marvelous matriarch, Anna Madrigal, portrayed by Olympia Dukakis in the enormously popular PBS productions based on the books, has become an icon.

“She’s the only character in the ‘Tales’ series with a little bit more elevated consciousness than I have,” Maupin says. “I think she’s what I aspire to be, and that is patient and kind, someone who keeps a rueful eye on life and doesn’t let it get to her.”

There’s a bit of the author in all of the characters, young and old, male and female. “I don’t think there’s a single one that I haven’t drawn from some aspect of my own personality, even the unattractive ones … especially the unattractive ones,” Maupin says, laughing.

Maupin was born in Washington, D.C., and raised in North Carolina. After university and a stint in the Navy, including a tour of duty in Vietnam, he moved to the Bay Area to pursue a career in journalism.

“Geography has always been the driving force behind my fiction. My brand new love affair with San Francisco, back in the ’70s, prompted me to invent stories.”

Prior to writing the new novel, he visited Winnemucca and, reluctantly, Burning Man. His husband, Christopher Turner, had prodded him to experience the latter.

Maupin says, “I was quite grumpy about the whole thing, highly resistant to the notion of heat and dust and deprivation. But as soon as I started running free in my sarong and letting go of the notion of staying clean, I found myself having a good time. It’s an amazing atmosphere. I described it in the novel as ‘a Fellini carnival on Mars.’ I had never seen anything like it. And I’m sure I never will again.”

Maupin doesn’t want to be defined simply as a gay writer, but has played an important role in reshaping the world’s perception of the LGBT community.

“I’m very proud of that. And I’ve always been proud of my openness about being gay. I just think that, to qualify a writer with an adjective is non-productive, because writers are writers and their job is to write about everybody’s experience for everybody. And that’s what I’ve always tried to do. But I’ve certainly never had any shame around being identified as gay. I’ve made a point of it actually, from the very beginning, sometimes with resistance. The culture itself was self-censoring for such a long time. Both well-meaning straight folks and frightened gay folks made sure that it didn’t get talked about.”

What Maupin has talked about — and written about — has made a difference. “The most enriching aspect of my life is the number of people who come to me and tell me that I’ve either saved their life or changed their life … or caused them to move to San Francisco,” Maupin says with a laugh.

“Words have great power. They arrive at the right time and the right place. And a lot of people weren’t hearing what I had to say — until they read my books. And they were in small towns somewhere, where they had no vision, no possible idea that someone who was gay could live happily, with straight friends, and find love, and be carefree.”

Now 70, he’s working on a one-man show and memoir called “Logical Family.” Even in the 1970s, Maupin noticed a lot of extended families in San Francisco.

“If someone disapproved of them elsewhere, they realized they could build families for themselves. It was a waste of time sitting around waiting for parental approval. Find your own grandparents, find your own siblings and get on with life. That’s the only way you can be fully loved. If you’re trying to love someone and the conditions aren’t there, it’s not very fulfilling.

“Sometimes your biological family can be part of your logical family. But not always. I don’t rule them out, but they don’t get points for just being blood kin.”

As Maupin writes, he continues to learn more about the world … and himself. “It’s not all figured out. I’ll probably never fully understand myself. But it’s a useful process.”


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Leave Like a Lady


Armistead Maupin delivers his final book in the beloved ‘Tales of the City’ series.

Before there was Sex and the City, there was Tales of the City, Armistead Maupin’s raucous celebration of life in San Francisco, where everything is worth a try, and Carrie Bradshaw’s addiction to five-inch heels translates best among drag queens. For almost 40 years, this groundbreaking, exuberant series of novels has shepherded us through changing notions of gender, class, race, sexuality, and freedom. It’s among the first book to deal with the rising AIDS epidemic.

More than that, it has allowed us to spend time with the charmingly complicated and often wildly inappropriate denizens of 28 Barbary Lane, that glorious, infamous apartment complex where Mary Ann Singleton, newly arrived from Cleveland, Ohio, first sets down her bags and decides to stay. How could she not? Her eccentric landlady, Anna Madrigal, as well as her fellow tenants, all promise the unfolding of life in every direction, and they’ve delivered ever since.

Tales began as a newspaper serial that appeared in regular installments in the San Francisco Chronicle in the mid-’70s. In that format, it drew upon current events as well as reader feedback to create a fluid sense of life in the city. Maupin carried this realism to the resulting novels and combined it with a keen wit, crackling dialogue, and innate sense of character to explore the outskirts of the human condition. What emerged over the course of nine books (and an acclaimed television mini-series, musical, and radio show) was a glittering patchwork quilt of sex, drugs, friendship, family, love and loss.

Can camp and gravitas co-exist in the same body of work? Hand in hand, it turns out. Maupin has written a feminist, humanist, ongoing soap opera for the masses, and this is perhaps his greatest gift to his readers: to make the unusual usual, or better still, essential, over time. “One of the things that I saw different about what I was doing was that I was allowing a little air into the situation by actually placing gay people in the context of the world at large. It felt revolutionary,” Maupin says.

He is appearing at Bookshop Santa Cruz on Thursday, Jan. 29 for the final book in the series: “The Days of Anna Madrigal.” Fittingly, we spend it with the woman who started it all. Time marches on, even in fiction, and Anna Madrigal—pot-dealing, transgendered grande dame, and one-time landlady of 28 Barbary Lane—is 92. Spirited but fragile, and ready to “leave like a lady,” she’s still living in San Francisco, where real estate is now sky high, hipsters haunt the coffee shops, and Google buses troll the Embarcadero. As we join this chapter of her story, most of her “logical family,” is headed for Burning Man in the Nevada desert, but one RV will take her to a different Nevada location: Winnemucca, or more specifically, the lonely road just outside of town, where Anna spent her depression-era boyhood, and ran away at the age of 16 from the whorehouse he called home. It’s there, in the dusty quiet of her past, where a lifetime of secrets and unfinished business still waits for her, even now, to set things right.

Countless fans have walked the streets of San Francisco, seeking out the footsteps of Mary Ann, Mona, Michael, Anna, and other beloved characters from Tales of the City. You can even ‘tour the tales’ by downloading a map from tourofthetales.com. People show up at Maupin’s readings all the time, and tell him how they came out because of Michael, took a risk because of Mary Ann, or honored a loved one’s wish to be buried with his books.

“It’s extremely gratifying and humbling,” he says. “There’s nothing one can say about it that doesn’t sound pompous.” His most substantive character may be San Francisco itself—flawed, celebrated, ever-changing—but perhaps it’s less the place on a map than a state of mind: somewhere to pause while we can, express who we are, and share common ground. “The great thing about 28 Barbary Lane,” says Maupin, “is that it gives the illusion there is a permanence somewhere. But, you see, our job is to embrace the impermanence.”


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The gay heart of San Francisco

Armistead Maupin concludes ‘Tales of the City’
by Elizabeth Schwyzer / Mountain View Voice

For 40 years, his novels have defined San Francisco: the home of counterculture, a haven for hippies, artists and writers, the capital of free speech and free love. With “The Days of Anna Madrigal,” the ninth book in his “Tales of the City” series, Maupin has written his last novel starring the motley cast of characters from 28 Barbary Lane. Tomorrow, Wednesday, Jan. 28, the internationally beloved author will appear at Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park to discuss the cult series and talk about what comes next for him as a writer.

The culmination of Maupin’s “Tales” marks the end of an era that began in 1976 with the enchanting, racy and for some, eye-opening first book, “Tales of the City,” in which a prudish young Midwestern woman moves to San Francisco and soon finds her life intertwined with bohemians and homosexuals — only to discover that they’re the best family she’s ever had.

In a telephone interview last week, Maupin talked about the ways in which “Tales” has drawn on his own life experience and his pride in the way his books have touched so many.

You started this series in 1976; you’ve lived with these characters for nearly 40 years. Have you had to grieve the end of the series as you would the death of a friend?

I was more concerned about honoring the characters than staying with them forever. I wanted to create an entity that had its own dignity and logic. I’ve never written addictively; I’ve only written when I felt I had something to say.

At what point did you make the decision that this would be your last “Tales of the City” book?

I can’t tell you exactly when I decided it was going to be the last book, but I became increasingly aware that I wanted the whole thing to have a good shape. I’ve tried for 40 years now to make each novel self-contained and yet to have them all connect to each other with an overall arc.

I think Anna (Madrigal)’s longevity had a lot to do with it. I couldn’t see having the series without her. I think she’s always been the sort of spiritual center of the piece.

There’s a lot of aging, illness and death in “The Days of Anna Madrigal.” If you don’t mind my asking, how much of that has to do with where your attention is in a larger sense?

Well, I’m 70 years old now, so obviously issues of mortality come into play. I’ve always trusted my own experience as the best source for my material. So when I was young and randy, I wrote about being young and randy, and when I was middle-aged and feeling domestic urges, I wrote about that. So now, many of my characters are wondering how long they’re going to be around and how they want to spend their time.

Can you talk a little bit about which aspects of your personality show up in which of your characters from “Tales?”

That would be a long talk. I’m pretty sure most writers are this way — we don’t like to admit it, but we’re our own best source material. Michael reflects my more romantic side. Mary Ann is a bit more practical and self-serving than some of the other characters, and I’m sure that’s part of me.

Mrs. Madrigal is the person I’ve always aspired to be. Somehow, she’s removed enough to be a source of wisdom for my own life. But I relate to them all. Brian, the straight character who ends up moving to a little town in New Mexico with an old love, is very close to my heart. His lack of ambition mirrors my own.

I’m not sure your readers would characterize you as unambitious.

Well, thank you. I saw someone describe me as prolific the other day, but I have to ask myself whether 11 books in 40 years is, in fact, prolific. I’ve moved at my own pace and at the pace I’ve enjoyed. I’m not driven. I’ve generally found that success has come by following my instinct in that sense.

Burning Man features prominently in this most recent book, and I gather you attended the festival. Tell me about your experiences there.

Burning Man was a treasure trove of the phantasmagorical. My husband dragged me along kicking and screaming the first time, and then I found myself getting into it. The trick is to abandon yourself to the heat and the dirt and the occasional noise and just let the world happen around you. The unexpected benefit is that there are an awful lot of people trying to be nice, and that’s a wonderful sensation in this modern world.

For the young men in your latest book growing up gay and transgender in 1936 Nevada, San Francisco is a dream world of liberation and freedom. Is that how it seemed to you when you first moved west?

I think it’s always been a place that incited wonderment and hope in people who live in less tolerant environments. I didn’t come out here thinking I was going to be liberated; I got a job with Associated Press, and liberation was a lovely by-product of that transplantation. I had heard about San Francisco from people in Charleston, South Carolina, where I lived, but I was still too afraid of my instincts to actively pursue it. It didn’t take long, I should say. As soon as I hit town, I realized that the straight people were far more comfortable with my homosexuality than I was. That made an enormous difference. That, and an abundance of gorgeous young men who seemed to want to spend time with me.

You were raised mostly in the South. What has it been like to end up so far away from that part of American culture and furthermore to have your work vilified by the Religious Right? Has it spurred you onward, hurt you or felt like more of a joke?

I wear the contempt of the American Family Association as a badge of honor. I’m very proud that I’ve been part of the social revolution that’s been underway for the past 40 years. I consider that to be the greatest accomplishment of my life. I am not at all distressed by the fact that there are people in my family who don’t understand why I would fight so hard for marriage equality because that tells me they don’t understand the nature of love itself.

Mrs. Madrigal talks about “biological” and “logical” families, meaning the ones that will truly nurture and support us. I feel I have found that through my life and my work in California, and I would be kind of disturbed if I wasn’t upsetting someone out there in our Calvinist country. The same people that have been so horrified by the notion of gay rights are the ones who have belittled women and minorities. Their repressive natures are universal the world over. We see it in ISIS, and we see it in certain Republican members of Congress. Fundamentalism in my mind is the greatest evil in the world today, regardless of the religion attached to it. I consider myself a raving humanist, and I think that you can construct a moral and compassionate life without the assistance of an imaginary god. I think it’s up to us as individuals to find that ourselves and carry through with it.

I was going to ask you what’s been most gratifying about writing this series over the years, but I think you’ve already answered me.

That’s it. I have so many people come up to me and say that my books — my simple, uncomplicated, funny little books — have changed their lives. There is nothing more gratifying than knowing that.

What: Armistead Maupin in conversation with writer Kemble Scott

Where: Kepler’s Books, 1010 El Camino, Menlo Park

When: Wednesday, Jan. 28, at 7:30 p.m. (seating area opens at 6:30 p.m.)

Cost: $15 general admission, $25 with a book

Info: Go to keplers.com or call 650-324-4321

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Armistead Maupin finally brings ‘Tales of the City’ saga to a close

By Wallace Baine, Santa Cruz Sentinel

Armistead Maupin’s long amazing career as a writer started in a way that is almost inconceivable in today’s mass media environment.

Maupin is the author of “Tales of the City,” a San Francisco-based saga that has stretched over nine novels in close to 40 years. But it began as a column in the morning newspaper. And ends with his latest work, the last “Tales of the City” installment, the new novel “The Days of Anna Madrigal.”

Maupin’s humorous and heartfelt tale of the fictional residents of Barbary Lane in San Francisco was a regional sensation in the late 1970s, appearing as a daily column in the San Francisco Chronicle in a nod to the serialized romances of the 1920s.

“I was so lucky,” said Maupin, who appears at Bookshop Santa Cruz tonight to discuss his new novel and his long relationship with the characters of Barbary Lane. “I was able to do this during a time when the morning newspaper was still the most important reading experience of your life, in many cases, the only words you would read during the day.”

Almost from the beginning, the serial was a sensation. “I knew I was going to be discussed at the water cooler every morning, and there was a tremendous power in that.”

He had composed a backlog of columns before starting on the serial, but soon that backlog was drained and he found himself “writing Wednesday’s column on a Monday, and I had no idea where I was going. So, I would just sit down two characters at Mrs. Madrigal’s breakfast table and get them to start talking to each other. I was in a state of perpetual panic.”

Now, “Tales of the City” is a literary institution, but the new installment of the story – the final chapter, Maupin has announced – is less a San Francisco story, or even a California one. It’s more like Maupin’s Nevada novel.

The book is largely the backstory of Anna Madrigal, the life force at the center of the Barbary Lane community. Anna, it is revealed, is a transsexual who grew up as a boy in a brothel in Winnemucca, Nevada.

The reference of Anna’s childhood in Winnemucca dates back to the very first “Tales of the City” novel in 1978. In “The Days of Anna Madrigal,” the Winnemucca of the past and Burning Man, which takes place in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada, form the two primary locales for the story.

This is the first time, in fact, that Maupin has employed flashback in the “Tales of the City” series. He goes back to 1936 and puts readers into the wild environment of Depression-era Winnemucca.

“I had to do some serious research,” he said. “But it proved to be a great deal of fun. I loved learning what was offered on a whorehouse menu in 1936.”

Burning Man figures largely in the book as well, just as it has in Maupin’s recent life. He was convinced to go for the first time in 2012 by his husband. “I was highly, highly resistant to the idea,” he said. “The notion of the heat and the dust and the deprivation, it was hard to conceive of. But once I got there, I loved it, swanning about in my sarong and taking in the whole phantasmagora.”

Maupin said he is ready to put the “Tales of the City” saga behind him. He’s now turned his attention to a memoir which includes his fascinating youth in North Carolina. As shocking as it might seem to some of his long-time fans, Maupin grew up a serious conservative in Raleigh, where he had a kind of mentor relationship with the infamous former Senator Jesse Helms, who began his career as a segregationist TV commentator in the 1960s.

“It always makes people wither a little bit when they hear that,” said Maupin.

Since “Tales of the City,” Maupin has emerged as an icon of gay San Francisco, which is about as far as imaginable from his beginnings as a conservative true believer in North Carolina, a stance that he looks back to in wonder himself.

“I just didn’t know any better,” he said. “I think I was just trying to please my family and the conservative tradition around me.” Helms remained friendly with Maupin’s family for many years after Maupin decamped for California.

“He really thought I was the hope of the future,” he said of Helms. “Turns out he was right.”


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Armistead Maupin “The Days Of Anna Madrigal”

Liz Saint John
January 26, 2015 10:13 AM

Do singles still go to the Marina Safeway to meet eligible mates?

Armistead Maupin‘s The Tales of the City started as a serial in 1976 in the Pacific Sun and then in the San Francisco Chronicle. From there, it got bought as a book…
The Days of Anna Madrigal is the ninth book, and Armistead says last, in the series. This one focuses on the now ninety-two year old landlady, Anna Madrigal, and her surprising past:

Listen to the interview here.

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