By Dani Burlison
JAN. 16, 2015
Has it really been 40 years?
Longtime San Francisco residents and Tales of the City fans might find it hard to believe that the saga of 28 Barbary Lane turned the big four-oh last August. Author Armistead Maupin’s columns first ran in the short-lived San Francisco edition of Marin County’s Pacific Sun weekly in 1974 before being picked up by the San Francisco Chronicle in 1976. The series became a much-anticipated weekly read for many bohemians of the day, and was subsequently published as a series of nine novels before being adapted as a television series for PBS in 1994.
The Tales of the City series brought representation of San Francisco’s LGBT community to readers at a pivotal time in history, addressing issues of the early AIDS epidemic and highlighting the humanness of transgender people in an otherwise extremely homophobic and ill-informed era.
Readers looked forward to each installment of Maupin’s serialized tales, eager to see what situations Mona Ramsey, Michael Tolliver, Anna Madgrigal and the story’s naïve Midwest transplant, Mary Ann Singleton, would find themselves wrapped up in next.
Maupin’s ninth and final novel in the series, The Days of Anna Madrigal, brings readers the surviving cast of characters from the early days at 28 Barbary Lane, now set against the backdrop of a San Francisco overrun with techies, hipster cafes and Google buses. The novel doesn’t keep us in 92-year old transgender landlady Anna Madrigal’s apartment, however. The story carries readers out to Burning Man and beyond, including dusty Winnemucca, NV where Anna lived in his mother’s brothel as a young man, Andy Ramsey, before running away to San Francisco.
Much like the novel leading characters east and away from San Francisco in his latest work, Maupin himself left the city in 2012 and relocated to New Mexico with his husband, thus closing a chapter in his own life.
He can’t stay away long, though, it seems. Maupin visits the Bay Area this month on a book tour for the paperback release of The Days of Anna Madrigal. In fact, fans who have followed his career and the lives of the mythological San Francisco residents in his work have several upcoming opportunities to hear him read, at independent bookstores in San Rafael (Copperfield’s Books; Jan. 23), San Francisco (Kepler’s Books; Jan. 28) and Santa Cruz (Bookshop; Jan. 29).
Rumor has it that The Days of Anna Madrigal is the final installment of the decades-long saga of 28 Barbary Lane. One can hope that Maupin has something more up his sleeve—and if not, we can rest well knowing that this cast of characters lives on in his novels. Because as wise old Mrs. Madrigal once said herself: “When you get this old lady, you get her for life.”