The Arts of Fiction and Onstage Conversation

By Leah Garchik
April 3, 2016

Last Tuesday, Armistead Maupin was presented with the 2016 Mayor’s Art Award at an event hosted by ArtCare: Friends of the San Francisco Arts Commission. Mayor Ed Lee praises Maupin for his “Tales of the City” novels, which “helped introduce LGBTQ culture to the mainstream and contributed to San Francisco’s image as a compassionate city that celebrates diversity.”

In addition to those ceremonies, the Arts Commission will host a public conversation between Maupin and poet/playwright/gay rights advocate Jewelle Gomez, at Herbst Theatre on Tuesday, April 5, at 5 p.m. (free, but tickets necessary; contact Eventbrite).

Maupin, who was “really quite honored” at the award -he’s the first writer to receive it – can’t help but marvel about the long-lasting success of “Tales,” which did debut to some early negative reaction. Since then, however, the story has become iconic as has the author. Maupin is a veteran of many onstage literary conversations. For instance, one with Nora Ephron.

Background first: Maupin had met Ephron in the 1970s, when she and Carl Bernstein “introduced me to New York. I didn’t take to her right away. I asked, ‘Doesn’t anybody smoke dope around here?’ There were all those liberals standing around with white wine in plastic glasses.”

Maupin was in New York for the 25th anniversary of Stonewall when his agent and friend Amanda “Binky” Urban, “‘Nora’s closest friend,” sat him and Ephron next to each other at a dinner party. Ephron said to him, “My son would just be thrilled to death to be sitting here with you tonight.’ Jacob was 16 years old, had read ‘Tales’ and had just come out to her. We talked about that young man. I was very moved,” said Maupin. He and Ephron became pals. And young Jacob Bernstein, whose documentary about his mother, “Everything Is Copy,” is showing on HBO, “has gone on to be almost as sharp as his mother.”

In 2006, when Ephron was publicizing her book “I Feel Bad About My Neck,” Maupin was in conversation with her at the Herbst, and when she complained about her neck, “I told her I could make a vagina out of my neck. And I proceeded to do it. And Nora said, ‘It’s kind of hard to know where to go from here.'”

That conversation fragment was cut from the national radio broadcast … and that’s why you should always try to hear the conversation live.

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