Monday, June 25, 2007

The long tale

The long tale
Writer Armistead Maupin reunites his fictional family
By Lauren Mechling
June 25, 2007

Long before Sex and the City and the concomitant vogue of the apple martini, there was another juicy newspaper column-turned-book-turned-blockbuster television series: Tales of the City, Armistead Maupin’s saga about life in San Francisco. In lieu of Carrie Bradshaw, readers rooted for Connie Bradshaw, a freewheeling stewardess (this being the ’70s, there was no such thing as a “flight attendant”).

Connie was lucky enough to live in a rambling boarding house at 28 Barbary Lane, where the residents included 25-year-old Cleveland escapee Mary Ann Singleton, beturbaned pot-smoking landlady Anna Madrigal and the angelic Michael (Mouse) Tolliver — Maupin’s fictional alter ego — who made sure to take time from his busy schedule at the gay bathhouses and dance contests to cheer up the girls’ lives.

Tales started out as a detour. In 1974, Maupin was working as a reporter for the city edition of the Pacific Sun, a small weekly newspaper in Marin County, Calif. One day he set out to write a feature about the Wednesday night pickup scene at the local supermarket, but persuading shoppers to go on record about their true intentions proved impossible. “I was just forced into fiction because I couldn’t find anybody at the Marina Safeway who would admit that they were there to get laid,” says Maupin, a tall 63-year-old, whose impeccable posture and attentive manner hint at his former life as a naval officer in Vietnam. “So I went home and made up this fictional new girl in town and created a situation where she picks up a guy only to discover he’s gay.”

Maupin ended up handing his editors a story about Mary Ann Singleton’s mistake, and went on to write five more pieces chronicling Mary Ann’s escapades before the paper folded. He showed his clips to an editor at the San Francisco Chronicle, who hired him two years later to continue the experiment as a daily serial.

Though the stories were jammed with all manner of promiscuity and naughtiness, they inevitably circled back to the cozy message that family can be found anywhere. When Mouse’s parents come in from Orlando only to hector him about all the roller-skating nuns and “fruits” to be found in the city, our hero caps off the day with a visit to his landlady, who has also had a trying day. The instalment ends with the couple sitting closely on the couch, their eyes tearing up over a shared doobie.

Maupin’s writing appealed to trannies and grannies alike, and le tout San Francisco was instantly hooked on the series. “It was a kind of mini-stardom,” he recalls of the days when everyone was atwitter about the latest Tales column. “Everywhere I went people wanted to audition for the story. They would tell me tales of their lives in hopes that they would show up in print. Usually the ones that showed up in print were the ones they didn’t want in there.”

What had started out as an in-joke for San Francisco swiftly blossomed into a cultural juggernaut. Ultimately the columns were collected into six bestselling books that were translated into 10 languages. Legions of fans found a family in the Barbary Lane gang, and for the next 12 years, Maupin churned out fresh instalments. “During those first two years it was especially gruelling,” he says. “I would show up for work and have no idea what I was going to write for the next day’s paper.” And yet, he managed to produce 850 words a day. After the columns were reworked as books, the first three of them were adapted into a hit television series for PBS and, later, Showtime, that starred Olympia Dukakis, Laura Linney and featured a smattering of Canadian actors including Paul Gross and Sandra Oh.

Like Sheherazade spinning out the 1001 Arabian Nights, Maupin wouldn’t quit. The skein of relationships and coincidences grew increasingly twisted. And then, in 1989, it all came to a crashing halt. “I suppose I was feeling the hot breath of AIDS,” he says. “And because I had established Michael as HIV positive. I was pretty sure he was going to die and I really didn’t want to go over that territory.” The final book in the series, Sure of You, ended with the characters drawing together to make the necessary preparations for Michael’s death.

But the sun didn’t set on Barbary Lane for good. After a nearly two-decade hiatus — in which Maupin put out two unrelated novels, Maybe the Moon and The Night Listener — Maupin has decided to check in on his old friends. In his new book, Michael Tolliver Lives, we learn that, thanks to protease inhibitors, Michael, now 55, has survived. No worse for wear other than deeper crow’s feet and a slight paunch, he is now living in the Castro district and is impossibly happy — he runs his own gardening company and has married Ben, a gorgeous 33-year-old furniture designer he first espied on a “daddy hunter” website.

“I think falling in love had a lot to do with my decision to write this book,” Maupin explains. Three years ago he met Christopher Turner, 35, after viewing his profile on a website, and the two were married in Vancouver earlier this year. “It brought new light into my life and I felt like Michael again. I thought I owed him the same joy that I felt.”

Like its slightly arthritic protagonist, Michael Tolliver Lives moves along at a slower pace than Maupin’s fans have come to expect. The latest instalment shares the humour and brisk unshowiness that has come to distinguish Maupin’s voice, but light and funny as it is, it is less reliant on dialogue, and more reflective. There is also more sex. “Michael has changed much in the ways that I have,” Maupin admits. “He’s more contemplative, he’s more domestic, he’s more mellowed.”

Told in first person, there is none of the juggling of 10 wild storylines (secret love children, sex changes) that came to be the trademark of the Tales series. Instead, we are presented with an eminently likeable 55-year-old who had once thought he’d beat everybody else to the grave. “After 30 years in the city,” our narrator considers in one of the book’s first pages, “it’s nice to be reminded that I’m still glad to be here, still glad to belong to this sweet confederacy of survivors, where men meet in front of the hardware store and talk of love and death and circle jerks as if they’re discussing the weather.”

Michael’s world is shaken when his born-again brother Irwin calls him from Orlando to tell him that their mother is dying. Michael and Ben pack up and head down to the red state to visit “the biologicals,” as Michael calls his Bible-thumping relatives. The term “family” is reserved for another set. The tug of war between “biologicals” (the family we are born into) and “logicals” (the family we make of our friends and lovers) has been a long-standing theme in Maupin’s stories, but never more than in this book. Maupin concedes this, too, stems from real life. “My father died a couple years ago. I took Christopher back [to North Carolina] to meet him. He was very polite, but there still wasn’t the intimacy that I had hoped for. I became aware that all these years my hope was futile that my father would understand who I was.”

The Tales series was deeply intoxicated with its own time; hardly a page went by without mention of a pet rock or Zen retreat. Maupin’s love of yoking his stories to a specific period lives on, though the timely references in Michael Tolliver Lives — Bible puppets, Terri Schiavo, more mentions of George W. Bush than I’d care to count — seem less like funny embellishments than a way to criticize the direction America has been taking. “Michael,” Maupin says, “like me, has become more political. The times call for it. As far as I’m concerned, we’re living in a divided nation. I saw a perfect way to represent that by sending Michael home to his family in Florida.”

Once he wraps up his six-week-long book tour, Maupin plans to get started with his next Tales novel, for which he just signed a contract. He still doesn’t know what the plot will be or whose perspective he will tell it from, but he trusts his fans will welcome it in whatever form it ends up. “They come away [from the Tales series] with a sense that they can form their own family out of friends and lovers,” he says. “It offers you freedom and security in the same package. And having an all-forgiving transgendered landlady doesn’t hurt, either.”

Sunday, June 24, 2007

NY Times Book Review

NY Times Book Review

June 24, 2007

Still More Tales of the City



By Armistead Maupin.

277 pp. HarperCollins Publishers. $25.95.

Armistead Maupin's enormously popular "Tales of the City" series, published between 1978 and 1989, told the story of a disparate group of San Franciscans brought together under the roof of Anna Madrigal, a transsexual lady of a certain age who ran a boarding house on a street called Barbary Lane while growing marijuana on the side. Reviving a 19th-century tradition, Maupin wrote the Tales in the form of a serial, with installments appearing daily in The San Francisco Chronicle. After "Sure of You" came out in 1989, Maupin declared that the series was finished, and went on to write two other novels. He changed his mind, however, and now he brings us "Michael Tolliver Lives," a sort of coda to the Tales, in which he catches us up on the many characters who populate the earlier books — and in particular on Mike Tolliver himself.

As the first chapter opens, it is 2006, and Mike, at 55, is surprised to be alive. Twenty years ago he was certain that he would die of AIDS; now, much to his own bewilderment, he's thriving, thanks to "a fine-tuned mélange of Viramune and Combivir." Life is good for Mike: he owns his own house, runs a successful business as a gardener and landscape architect, and was recently married to Ben, who is handsome, charming and 21 years his junior.

And yet, let's not forget that we're in Armistead Maupin's San Francisco. Thus Mike's burly assistant, a self-proclaimed "bear cub" named Jake Greenleaf, turns out to be a female-to-male transsexual with whom Mike once had a gender-bending one-night stand. Mike found Ben, on the Internet, on a site devoted to older men and their admirers, on which Ben identified himself as CLEANCUTLAD4U. And their wedding was part of the communal ceremony that took place at San Francisco City Hall after the city declared marriage between same-sex couples legal, with Mayor Gavin Newsom presiding, "so young and handsome and ... neat ... that he actually looked like the man on top of a wedding cake."

As for Anna Madrigal — the doyenne of Barbary Lane, played so memorably by Olympia Dukakis in the PBS adaptation of the series — she's now 85, and has moved from her boarding house to a small apartment where she watches lovingly over the three young "trannies" upstairs. Along with Mike, she's trying to keep an eye on Shawna, the daughter of Mike's straight best friend, Brian. Shawna has grown up into a sort of Outward Bound explorer of the erotic wilderness, whose adventurings — recounted on a widely read blog — include a stint working at "the Lusty Lady, a peep show in North Beach that recently became the nation's first worker-owned strip club." Even the domestic bliss that Mike shares with Ben is distinctly San Franciscan in flavor, with Ben casually giving his older husband testosterone injections and the couple negotiating just how open they want their marriage to be. ("You're too young to be monogamous," Mike tells Ben. "And I'm too old.")

Such, though, is life in the city that Mike's Orlando-based relatives call "Sodom by the Bay" — a life whose audaciously self-conscious particularity Mike finds alternately delightful and exasperating. Reflecting on a restaurant menu's description of ingredients as "artisanal" rather than "homemade," he observes: "Sometimes Northern California just wears me ... down, and I get fed up with our precious patois, our fetishizing of almost everything." It's as if, for Maupin as much as for Mike, a certain malaise has settled in; as if "the City" they love so well, with its population of latex fetishists, foot worshipers and people who like to have sex in clown costumes, has started to seem even to them a little too, well, cute.

Like its predecessors, Michael Tolliver Lives" is a novel only in the loosest sense of the term. The chapters are independent yet interdependent, flowing into one another gracefully while remaining very much singular entities. If there's a plot, it's a casually constructed one, culminating in the simultaneous collapses of two very different women: Mike's "biological" mother, dying in a nursing home in Florida, and his "logical" mother, Anna, hospitalized in San Francisco after a heart attack. The choice of which bedside to run to — of which mother is the real mother — provides some dramatic tension, if only in the final pages.

The most interesting part of "Michael Tolliver Lives" is probably the sequence of chapters that takes Mike and Ben to visit Mike's family in Orlando. It's here that Maupin catches his stride as a writer, displaying in great furls of prose both his instinct for comedy and his linguistic verve. He gets Central Florida spot-on: the McMansion in which Mike's sister-in-law, Lenore, enlists his

proto-gay great-nephew, Sumter, in constructing puppets for her Christian puppet theater; the Gospel Palms nursing home, in which Mike's dying mother strikes up a friendship with her black hairdresser (with whom Mike and Ben later have a three-way); the gay B&B owned by "a pair of retired Italian queens from Queens" who each night leave an orchid floating in the toilet bowl.

All this is rendered with balance, good humor and compassion. And indeed, if I have a complaint about "Michael Tolliver Lives," it may be that for all the pleasure it takes in its own transgressiveness, it comes off as a little too nice. For example, what in the '70s we called "four-letter words" pepper the novel, yet they're almost always used as terms of endearment. No conflict lasts for more than a few sentences, every flare-up is becalmed by sweetness, and though all the characters are interesting, none are difficult. I once heard the British actress Mollie Sugden observe in an interview that there could be no comedy without threat. Yet for all Maupin's ponderous references to George W. Bush, Enron, Abu Ghraib and AIDS, threat is oddly remote from the landscape of "Michael Tolliver Lives." On the contrary, the characters live in a landscape more distinctive for its buffered gentleness than its dangers.

Despite this, the book is great fun to read. Maupin is a master at sustained and sustaining comic turns. Of these, my favorite is probably the story of Carlotta. Carlotta, to be precise, is the name Mike and Ben have given to the voice in which their Toyota Prius's navigation system gives them directions: "female, elegant and a little bossy." On a trip through the Southwest, Ben, noticing a chill in the air, tells Carlotta, "Seventy-two degrees." She answers that "there is no fifth destination." Realizing Carlotta must have misunderstood him, Ben asks: "If that's the answer, what's the question?"

Unfortunately, like so much else in this novel, Maupin domesticates this moment of spectral strangeness, much as the city he loves and loathes domesticates the perverseness in which it also takes such pride. "From that moment on," Mike tells us, " 'There is no fifth destination' became our all-purpose pronouncement. ... It became our way of saying 'big deal' or 'who the hell knows?' or 'lighten up, for God's sake, you won't get out of this alive.' "

All very nice. And yet I couldn't help wondering: What would Nabokov have done with Carlotta?

David Leavitt's novel "The Indian Clerk" will be published this fall.

Doesn't Ask, Doesn't Tell

The New York Times
Originally Published June 24, 2007

Published: June 24, 2007

SOME mementos are more momentous than others.

In 1971, when Armistead Maupin was driving from his old post, working for The Associated Press in Charleston, S.C., to a new post in San Francisco, he stopped in Iowa to visit a friend from the Navy. Both had recently returned from Vietnam. That night a call came from the White House.

President Nixon was looking for the two men to be part of a campaign his administration was putting together to counter the antiwar protests of a veteran named John Kerry. The men would be part of a team of veterans who would voluntarily go back to Vietnam and rebuild villages — and be photographed cheerily doing so.

“Never mind that none of us could build anything,” Mr. Maupin recalled earlier this month. He was in New York to promote “Michael Tolliver Lives,” the latest of his “Tales of the City” books, the first in nearly 20 years.

For his participation, Mr. Maupin met President Nixon and was photographed shaking his hand. For years after he came out as a gay man in the liberal world of ’70s San Francisco, he was proud of this souvenir. “I would bring guys back to my penthouse shack, and they would see the picture, and all the blood would rush out of their face,” he said.

The picture was finally mothballed. But Mr. Maupin does have a souvenir of his tour of duty in Vietnam, one that stands on his bookshelf in San Francisco to this day. As an assistant protocol officer in Saigon in 1969, his first post in Vietnam, one of his duties was squiring around the wives of visiting dignitaries and officers. While taking Mouza Zumwalt, the wife of Adm. Elmo R. Zumwalt Jr., to the city’s antiques shops, he came across a 10-inch-tall brass dragon and fell in love with it. “I remember thinking, this would be the perfect little mascot for me,” Mr. Maupin said.

It went along with him to a radio post at Chau Doc, on the Cambodian border. “I thought if I got sent somewhere more dangerous, my father would be more proud of me,” he said.

“I fell asleep many nights at the radio with that dragon sitting in front of me — only to be awakened in the morning by Adrian Cronauer, whose voice I got to know very well,” he added, referring to the irreverent disc jockey memorably portrayed in 1987 in the film “Good Morning, Vietnam.”

Mr. Maupin’s own Navy experiences were not so worthy of chronicle. He found much more material for his stories in the burgeoning sexuality and changing mores of ’70s and ’80s California. And luckily, the dragon, which has a Mae Westian quality, sinuously standing with one flipper on a swiveling hip, has weathered every curve. Somewhat like its mortal relative, the chameleon, it managed to change from an exotic memento of war to an emblem of free-spirited Tao-quoting West Coasters.

“I like how it looks, how it stands,” he said. “It’s sort of whimsical yet rugged.”

It is also a fitting revisionist mascot for someone who had come to take pride in being gay, a preference rejected in the Armed Forces: in Eastern philosophy the dragon is celebrated as a creative force for good (the yang in the yin-yang), while in Western myth its notoriety as a cranky, flame-breathing, maiden-stealing creature is distinctly less auspicious. You’d be cranky, too.

Now, he said, “It’s a nice reminder of what a journey it’s been, and of how far I’ve come.”

As vociferous in his critique of the Iraq war and of military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy as he once was supportive of Vietnam, Mr. Maupin nimbly demonstrates that it is not whether you flip that counts, but whether you come down on the right side.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Cover to Cover with Richard Wolinsky - June 21, 2007

Cover to Cover with Richard Wolinsky - June 21, 2007 at 3:00pm

Click to listen (or download)

Sunday, June 17, 2007

FIVE QUESTIONS For Christopher Turner

Daddy-hunt site entrepreneur knows of which he posts
Justin Berton, Chronicle Staff Writer
Sunday, June 17, 2007

Shortly after Christopher Turner started his Web site in 2002, a hot older male approached him while walking on 18th Street in the Castro district. The man said he recognized Turner from his online profile; he'd even printed out a photograph of the Internet entrepreneur.

"Apparently he didn't post his picture because he was too darn shy about the whole thing," Turner, 35, recalled.

The admirer was novelist and screenwriter Armistead Maupin, Turner's senior by 27 years. The two got to talking and have been a couple ever since. In February, they married.

Turner started his second site,, a personals service that pairs men older than 40 with younger guys, because he knew there was a market for "intergenerational relationships." ( caters to those with more hard-core tastes.) Four years after its founding, the site hosts 100,000 members and draws 35,000 visitors per day, according to Google Stats.

This week is a big one in the Turner-Maupin household. unfurled billboard advertising in San Francisco, featuring shirtless young men being pawed by older hands, and Maupin is releasing his seventh installment of his "Tales of the City" book series, "Michael Tolliver Lives," which, it so happens, revolves around an older man who meets a young Web site owner.

Q: The new advertising campaign that's popping up around town -- why now?

A: We're at a place where we're happy with the site, and I just decided to spend some money on local advertising. There's already a large number of users in San Francisco, and I wanted to see if we could build a larger community here.

Q: You said that in younger-older relationships, most people from the outside think one person is using the other. What is the dynamic that people don't see?

A: I think when people see a young man with an older guy, they think, "Sugar Daddy." And I guess the same goes for straight relationships. But one thing people don't see is that a lot of people have a serious attraction to older men -- whether it's physical, emotional, intellectual -- and feel more comfortable in relationships with older men. I launched the site as sort of a political statement: You can have a loving relationship despite an age difference ... I think the Greeks understood it well, and so did the gay community. Back in the '70s, the gay community featured older, hairy guys in gay porn all the time. During the AIDS crisis, everything we saw, in advertising and porn, suddenly became young and clean.

Q: We all get older. As you age, do you wonder if you'll continue to seek out older males, or will a role reversal take place?

A: I don't know. Attraction is hard to understand. My current attraction toward older men has been around since I can remember, but I imagine that could change. I'm really not sure. That's always the issue with an age difference. With Armistead, he's 27 years my senior and, you know, he'll likely die before me. So there's the big issue of any age-difference relationship. But who knows? It's hard to say where my attractions will be in 20, 30 years.

Q: Had you read Armistead's books before he approached you on the street?

A: I hadn't. But I was living in London when the series was released on television, and it was a really huge thing in England. I couldn't wait for the next episode. ... I had been to San Francisco once before, and about six months later (after watching the series) I moved here. So, I feel like one of the reasons I moved here was because of his work; it reminded me of how great San Francisco is. That was 10 years before we met.

Q: In the book, did you read any parts and say, "Hey, that's me, that's us?"

A: Definitely. There are parts there that are based on us. Michael Tolliver, in some ways, is like Armistead. But in many ways he's not. Same goes for Ben, the younger man. Some of the dynamics are similar to our relationship, sure. But I don't want to say which ones, for the record.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Armistead Maupin Entertainment Weekly

June 15, 2007

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Silvering bard by the bay

Friday, June 15, 2007
By Josh Getlin
June 15, 2007 in print edition A-1

IT started out as a gag, a literary riff on aging gays and lesbians who flock to retirement homes built just for them. Armistead Maupin toyed with the idea when he began writing “Tales of the City” back in the 1970s, and his imagination ran wild: No one would be allowed to wear golf clothes; Broadway sing-alongs were mandatory. With the right accessories, you could be 50 and fabulous.

Thirty years later, those punch lines are giving way to plumb lines. And the dream that Maupin wrote about – a nurturing seniors community in the Bay Area for people of all sexual persuasions – is becoming a reality. This fall, the Barbary Lane Communities for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender seniors will open on Lake Merritt in Oakland. The fully renovated Art Deco building, taking its name from Maupin’s fictional community set in San Francisco’s Russian Hill, will offer 46 units renting for $3,295 to $4,295 per month. It is one of the first urban retirement communities catering to such a middle-income clientele – and the only one known to draw its name from a series of bestselling books.

“I think I’d want to move in,” said Maupin, 63, only half seriously. With nearly 4 million copies of his novels in print – and a new book, “Michael Tolliver Lives,” just out – he can easily afford to grow old in his rustic Parnassus Heights home, high above San Francisco Bay. The handsome man with silver hair and a thick gray mustache is one of America’s most successful, openly gay authors.

But at this stage of his life, Maupin is also haunted by questions of death, aging and community: How will other, less affluent gay and lesbian seniors find safe harbor in a culture that remains hostile to them? When they look for senior housing, will they be forced back into the closet they fled years ago? A growing awareness of these problems persuaded Maupin to give his blessing to backers of Barbary Lane Communities when they asked him two years ago for permission to use the name. And those same concerns color his new novel, which follows six previous installments of “Tales of the City.”

In “Michael Tolliver Lives,” the gay and straight characters who once crowded into the baths South of Market or gathered for “singles nights” at the Marina Safeway are now deep into their 50s. They’ve survived the scourge of AIDS but are frightened by the first rumblings of mortality. Although they talk a good game about sex, food and pop culture, their youth has vanished, like a cloud of fine Colombian.

“I’ve always written about the moment,” said Maupin, whose career took off in 1976, when his pioneering daily serial about sexually liberated men and women began appearing in the San Francisco Chronicle. “And it was clear that, just as I have taken people on a guided tour of my hedonistic youth, I would have to do the same thing now with my contented seniority

If early critical buzz is any indication, Maupin’s new novel may once again reach a large audience. He is a brand name in a gay literary market that is growing but still struggling for mainstream success. Laura Miller, Salon’s fiction editor, wrote that his earlier San Francisco stories are “perhaps the most sublime piece of popular literature America has ever produced.” Although some critics have sniffed that his writing trends more toward breezy pop than literary heft, there is no doubting his nationwide appeal; three versions of his San Francisco stories have been broadcast on PBS and Showtime.

MAUPIN reached this plateau because he was one of the first authors to invent a world where quirky, thoroughly likable characters of all sexual persuasions interact happily with one another. “I was able to be revolutionary by worming my way into people’s hearts, not their pants,” he said. Long before “Will & Grace,” “Six Feet Under” and “Sex and the City,” Maupin was telling yarns about an urban village where everyone gets along and knows the details of each other’s lives.

“He put the gay boy, the straight girl, the lesbian woman and the straight man into one colorful setting,” said Charles Flowers, executive director of the Lambda Literary Foundation. “When he began writing, there was a lot of cultural separatism, with gays on one side of the street and straights on the other. But Maupin crossed over and just wrote great popular fiction. That’s how you build an audience.”

As in his earlier books, “Michael Tolliver Lives” echoes themes from Maupin’s own life: Like his main character, he has wrestled with the reluctance of family members to acknowledge – and celebrate – his lifestyle. Like Tolliver, who is frustrated by his family’s lingering bias against gay men and women, Maupin struggled to win respect and unconditional love from the members of his own family.

He married Christopher Turner, a 36-year-old website entrepreneur, in February and called their bond “the greatest thing that’s happened to me.”

Then he took Turner home to meet the folks.

“I was struck by the really gallant effort on the part of our relatives to be kind and accepting,” he said, recalling recent visits he and Turner made to their respective families, including a trip to North Carolina, just before his father died.

“But there was this enormous gulf that we couldn’t span, because we were thinking in entirely different ways. And this gulf is happening on a national scale right now.”

Maupin shifts uncomfortably on a living room sofa, watching a blanket of fog peel off the bay. He suddenly sounds exasperated.

“I mean, here I am. I’m Armistead Maupin, for God’s sakes,” he said. “I’ve been preaching this message to the world for 30 years, and my own family still hasn’t quite gotten it. It occurred to me, as I began writing the new book, that Michael Tolliver would almost certainly be in the same boat. He’d be angry too. I’ve run out of patience with this.”

Maupin rattles off a litany of personal complaints: He’s been out of the closet since 1974, and his relatives should have fully accepted this by now. They should embrace him, not simply tolerate him. It’s hard enough to fight these battles in one’s youth. But as age approaches, he’d much rather spend his time enjoying those he loves: “I’m still in my prime,” he said with a mildly protesting laugh. “I’m not done yet.”

A poster hanging on a wall in his home shows a different Armistead Maupin, some 30 years ago. The face is leaner, the hair shaggier. In a framed newspaper ad, the Chronicle boasts that “Tales of the City” would be returning with more installments. In those days, the author was quite the hot young celebrity – and San Francisco was in its social and political heyday, a beckoning Ellis Island for gays and lesbians.

Like many before him, Maupin came to the city looking for a chance to simply be himself. He was born in Washington, D.C., in 1944, and raised in North Carolina in a conservative Republican household. After serving in Vietnam, he worked briefly for a Charleston, S.C., newspaper (and Sen. Jesse Helms’ TV station) before landing a job in 1971 with the San Francisco office of the Associated Press. He came out publicly soon afterward and in 1976 hit on the idea of writing a serial about singles life in the Bay Area for the Pacific Sun. When the paper’s city edition folded, he continued the project at the Chronicle. It was an instant hit. Readers were drawn by the novelty of contemporary fiction in the pages of a daily newspaper; they reveled in a series that featured a nurturing landlord, Anna Madrigal, who later revealed that she’d had a sex change operation. The work was rewarding, but also hectic.

“I had to write individual 800-word segments, fictional stories, every day for five days a week,” he said. “In two years I had maybe two weeks off. It was abject hell.”

The pace slowed when HarperCollins (then Harper & Row) persuaded Maupin to turn the installments into individual novels. He rewrote some segments, became much freer with language and launched his career as an author. Today he can’t imagine writing 800 words all at once, let alone five times a week.

He also couldn’t imagine launching a similar set of stories based in another city, as some publishers have asked him to do over the years. (“Could I do this in Los Angeles, turning it into a little village where everybody keeps running into everybody? I don’t think so.”) San Francisco – bizarre, progressive, forgiving – was the logical setting for Barbary Lane, and Maupin believes the city has much to be proud of.

“We have been right on so many things,” he said, sounding like a Chamber of Commerce advocate. “We were right on the Iraq war. We were right on George Bush. We were right about global warming.”

BUT there’s still work to be done, he added: The AIDS crisis is far from resolved, and battles over gay marriage continue. In Hollywood, gay and lesbian actors are still trapped in a “celluloid closet” that prevents them from announcing their sexual preference to the world. And in the literary community, gay and lesbian books are still “ghettoized” in many chain and independent bookstores.

“The best thing for me to do is keep writing, to be as honest as I can,” said Maupin, who has begun work on yet another book about the Barbary Lane crowd. And he promises that at least one of them, heartthrob Mary Ann Singleton, will undergo a transforming experience. When last seen, she was a reserved Connecticut matron with a silvery Judi Dench hairdo, yearning to return to her old San Francisco roots.

“Can you say ‘younger woman’?” Maupin asked with a delighted grin. “Uh-oh, I probably shouldn’t have told you that.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Armistead Maupin/Barnes & Noble

June 14, 2007

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

5 Questions for Armistead Maupin

5 questions for Armistead Maupin
By Jocelyn McClurg, USA TODAY
San Francisco's 28 Barbary Lane was home away from home to millions of fans of Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City series (1978-1989).

Some of Tales' most beloved characters return in Michael Tolliver Lives (HarperCollins, $25.95), including the HIV-positive title character. The author, 63, spoke with USA TODAY.

1: Why revisit Michael?

I wanted to examine my own experience as an aging gay man. Michael is a little bit me, a little bit who I'd like to be and a little bit who I'd like to sleep with.

2: Michael is doing pretty well for himself with a much younger guy, as are you. (Maupin married Christopher Turner, 35, in Canada earlier this year.)

It's the best time of my life. Not specifically because my husband is young, but because he's kind and understanding. The young part doesn't hurt, of course.

3: Could you have imagined 30 years ago that one day gay couples could marry?

In a word, no. (Laughs.)

4: Why do you think readers fell in love with Tales of the City?Maybe because it imagined a world that was possible but had not yet been achieved. The very fact that Barbary Lane encompasses gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered and straight characters makes it appealing to everyone.

5: Why has humor been important to you as a writer?It's been important to me as a man. It's always been my defense against a world that is fundamentally quite cruel.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Michael Tolliver Day, June 12, 2007


Monday, June 11, 2007

Armistead Maupin takes new trip down Barbary Lane

Armistead Maupin takes new trip down Barbary Lane

Monday, June 11, 2007

Unlike his friend Nora Ephron, Armistead Maupin doesn't feel bad about his neck. Sure, it's a little creaky -- a touch of arthritis -- but he looks on the bright side. "I wake up in the morning with the loveliest guy in the world, with incredibly geezery aches and pains," Maupin says with a laugh.

His point is, he wakes up. And he does so -- with his husband, Christopher Turner, a Web site entrepreneur -- in a cozy aerie, tucked in the woods above Parnassus Avenue at the top of a zigzag of brick steps.

The house has a spectacular view of the city, as does Maupin, creator of the beloved "Tales of the City" series.

Started in 1976 as a newspaper serial following the adventures of the various eccentrics living at 28 Barbary Lane (a stand-in for Russian Hill's Macondray Lane), "Tales" ran for years in The Chronicle, spawning six books and three television miniseries.

After 18 years, Maupin has returned to Barbary Lane with a new book -- "Michael Tolliver Lives," out Tuesday from HarperCollins -- which is another love song to Maupin's adopted home.

Tuesday, the city returns the compliment; Mayor Gavin Newsom has declared June 12 "Michael Tolliver Day in San Francisco."

Unlike its predecessors, the new book is written from the point of view of Tolliver, the sweet male Southern belle.

"I was nervous that people following the series might be thrown off by a first-person novel that has all the characters treated equally," says Maupin, settling into a deep champagne-colored couch and looking very Brooks Brothers in a green gingham shirt and crisp khakis. But as the book took shape, he couldn't resist giving preferential treatment to some of the characters.

"They started auditioning for me, begging for a place in the chorus line," he says. These folks are still kicking, despite the devastation of AIDS and advancing age, and therein lies the theme of Maupin's newest "Tale."

"I wanted to illuminate the process of growing older as a gay man, and make it easier for people who think life is over," he says. "Gay men who are growing old are incredibly lucky to be here."

Maupin's life hasn't been untouched by AIDS; like so many, he lost a loved one. The optimistic outlook he has today has been hard won.

"But if I'd known that 63 was going to feel this good, I would have been a lot more cheerful along the way," says Maupin. He and Turner, who is 27 years younger, were married this year in Vancouver, British Columbia; Turner runs a Web site for gay men over 40 who are searching for younger partners.

"Age is the last closet you come out of in the gay world," he says, and that's more than just a snappy coinage.

"There are such gloomy visions of gay men aging. But if you worship beauty above all else, if you worship sex above all else, you're in trouble. If you're not working on your heart every second, you are going to have a very sad old age."

The walls of Turner and Maupin's terraced Arts and Crafts cottage are lined with paintings, photographs and mementos.

A photo-portrait of Maupin by David Hockney hangs in the tin-lined stairwell. Facing it is a sultry watercolor of Turner by Don Bacardi, partner of author Christopher Isherwood (a mentor of Maupin's). Nearby is a pencil sketch of Ian McKellen as Gandalf, a self-portrait the actor left as a gift on his last visit.

Among the treasures displayed on a beautifully figured oak table by the front window is a gilt-edged edition of "Mademoiselle de Maupin." French writer Theophile Gautier's 1835 novel is the story of a woman seeking truth and beauty through cross-dressing. The character is one of the inspirations for Anna Madrigal, the transsexual landlady in "Tales of the City" who was played on film by Olympia Dukakis.

Also holding places of honor in Maupin's home are the sepia portraits of his maternal grandmother. She was an English suffragist, theosophist, palm reader and actress who moved to Asheville, N.C., during the First World War. One photograph shows her wide-eyed and in character as "The Madwoman of Chaillot," a satirical French play from the 1940s. Maupin saw her perform when he was a boy, and still recalls the moment she took the stage in that role at the Raleigh Little Theatre, rising through a trapdoor in a curtain of dry ice.

She would often read his palm and ask what he wanted to be when he grew up. "A lawyer, like Daddy," he would say, and she would close his palm tenderly, with a look that said "probably not."

When he last visited her, at a convalescent home in Virginia, "Tales of the City" had just been published. At 95, she was dressed up as always, but she didn't know him. On an impulse, he reached out his palm. "Teddy," she said, using his family nickname, "you're in your 30s now."

Through "Tales of the City," Maupin became an activist.

"We've had a revolution over the years, and I'm really happy to have been part of it," he says. "My whole career has been motivated by my determination that people shouldn't have to be in the closet. I'd spent time there myself."

Some newer fans of "Tales of the City" may not know how far he has come. Growing up in a prominent North Carolina family, Maupin was an "adamant young conservative." He began writing while in college, with a column in the Daily Tar Heel at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill that was "part Art Buchwald, part William F. Buckley."

After serving in the Navy, Maupin returned from Vietnam a vocal supporter of the war. Through his father -- whose law firm ran the Congressional Club, a fundraising arm of the conservative right -- he went to work for North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms. "It's my so-called dark secret. I was Helms' golden boy," he says. "I think I've done enough to atone." In a twist Maupin relishes, Helms later condemned the film of "Tales of the City" on the Senate floor.

But looking back, "being a conservative and in the closet go hand-in-hand, because it's easier if you insist everyone else keep the lid on," he says. "The Rev. Ted Haggard is no rare exception." Haggard, a Christian-right preacher, was outed last year by his longtime male escort.

A move to California helped spur Maupin's self-acceptance -- but not right away.

"I was moving to San Francisco to work at Associated Press when I got a call that the president wanted to see me three days hence," he says mischievously.

Helms had recommended him to President Richard Nixon ("a terrified little man") as a potential counter to John Kerry, the charismatic member of Vietnam Veterans Against the War whose 1971 speech -- "how do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?" -- electrified Congress.

"It's bitterly ironic to me now," Maupin says, "because in the last election Kerry was nowhere near left enough for me."

When he finally did report for his AP job in San Francisco, his editors -- intentionally, he thinks -- sent him to cover a peace march downtown. "That's when I saw my first public nudity," he says fondly.

His own coming out was gradual, and San Francisco, he believes, made all the difference. "It opened my heart," he says. "It let me examine my own bigotry. And it let me have a good time doing it."

Maupin has more than returned the favor. After all, in his seven Dickensian "Tales" -- inspired by his own adventures and those of his friends -- the real protagonist is the city by the bay.

Author appearance

Tuesday is "Michael Tolliver Day" in San Francisco. Armistead Maupin will appear at 12:30 p.m. at Book Passage, 1 Ferry Building, #42, San Francisco, (415) 835-1020,; and at 7 p.m. at Books Inc., Opera Plaza, 601 Van Ness, San Francisco, (415) 776-1111,

Maupin revisits ‘Tales of the City’ hippies

Maupin revisits ‘Tales of the City’ hippies

Maupin revisits 'Tales of the City' hippies
'Michael Tolliver Lives' revisits many of favorite San Francisco characters
The Associated Press
Updated: 8:42 p.m. ET June 11, 2007

SAN FRANCISCO - Stretched out on a sofa next to his Australian shepherd, Sophie, Armistead Maupin says he never intended to write another installment of his popular "Tales of the City" series.

But thankfully for fans worldwide, Maupin's newest book, "Michael Tolliver Lives," revisits many of the same larger-than-life characters that propelled "Tales" from a weekly San Francisco Chronicle column to six books and a Showtime mini-soap opera.

The book debuts Tuesday, when Maupin kicks off a tour and Mayor Gavin Newsom declares "Michael Tolliver Day" in San Francisco.

Instead of randy hippies who smoke joints, as they did when the series began in 1976, the aging lefties of "Michael Tolliver Lives" pop joint and arthritis pills. Instead of plotting nightly sexual conquests, as they did as 20-something singles, many profess shock at the level of promiscuousness practiced by today's youth.

The book — which would certainly earn the literary equivalent of an R rating — centers on Michael Tolliver, the endearing Southern gay man who came to San Francisco in 1971 and lived at 28 Barbary Lane. Now Michael is in his mid-50s, a mildly arthritic and HIV-positive landscape architect married to Ben, a handsome furniture designer and yogi 21 years younger.

Michael first spots Ben on an Internet dating site, and a chance meeting in a coffee shop results in romance. They get hitched over Valentine's Day weekend in 2004, when the city began granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Except for Ben's weekly forays to bath houses in Berkeley, they're homebodies who watch sappy movies and tease each other about their lack of cooking skills.

"I wanted to tell the story of a gay man getting older — especially one who thought death was imminent and is now confronting normal mortality," Maupin, 63, said in the living room of his 1907 Craftsman overlooking the San Francisco Bay. "I didn't want to say it was a 'Tales' sequel because I didn't want to disappoint fans."

For readers looking for updates on "Tales" characters, Maupin delivers. Mary Ann, the straight-laced girl from Cleveland who moved to San Francisco to find a husband, is now a wealthy wife in Connecticut. Brian, once a sex-crazed heterosexual who relished his bachelor status, is a single father uncertain whether to embrace or stifle his precocious daughter's bisexuality.

Politics play heavily in novel
The biggest difference between "Michael Tolliver" and earlier installments is Maupin's emphasis on politics. Several chapters take place near Orlando, Fla., where Michael visits his dying mother and introduces Ben to his born-again Christian relatives.

Michael bristles at Dick Cheney, the War on Terror, the radical right's influence in Washington. His relatives — racists and homophobes who live in a mansion and drive SUVs and a gas-guzzling boat — pray that he'll pick a straight "lifestyle" and repent before he goes to hell.

Maupin, a North Carolina native and Vietnam War veteran who came to San Francisco in 1971 as a reporter for The Associated Press, says the novel's political edge mirrors the polarization between red and blue America. It's also the logical result of Michael's maturity, he says.

"By the time you've reached my age, you're a lot less tolerant of bull---- from your family, even though the bonds still connect you and you still want to please," Maupin said. "We've made progress from utter invisibility 30 years ago to prominence in the cultural scene, but with that prominence has come a more rampant form of homophobia. My hope is that we're close to the time that homophobia takes on the status of racism today — normal, mainstream people don't accept it."

Maupin didn't create Michael Tolliver in his own image; the author's relatives welcomed his husband, Christopher Turner, into the family. But other parallels are obvious.

Maupin first saw Turner three years ago on an Internet site for older gay men, which Turner founded and runs. Maupin refused to solicit a date online and figured he'd never see Turner in real life.

Weeks later, he spotted Turner walking in the Castro, the city's gay enclave. Maupin stopped him, they exchanged numbers, dated, moved in together and married in Vancouver in February. Turner is 27 years younger than Maupin.

"I'm blessed to have found a man who loves me for who I am," said Maupin, who has bright but watery eyes and ruddy cheeks. "I am trying to be the best 63 I can — and I'm happy that I don't have to try to impersonate a man of 35. I want the novel to convey the fact that love, sex and connection are still there for us as we get older, just like it has been for me."

© 2007

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Sex and the city

Armistead Maupin's tales of single life in San Francisco in the 1970s and 80s gave gay fiction a sense of humour. After an interval of almost 20 years, he returns to the saga

by Hadley Freeman
The Guardian

Tales of the City, the enormously popular series that Armistead Maupin began in 1974, is set at number 28 on a quiet, tree-dappled lane in San Francisco; Maupin himself lives at number 27 on a quiet, tree-dappled lane in San Francisco. After an interval of almost 20 years since the last Tales of the City book, Sure of You, Maupin's new novel, Michael Tolliver Lives, is published on June 18. Michael, the much-loved gay character who appears throughout the series, is now in his 50s and enjoying unexpected marital bliss with a much younger man, whom he first spotted on a gay dating website before serendipitously running into him on the street; Maupin - which the author pronounces, with a determined lack of pretension, as "Moppin" - is now in his 60s and recently married a much younger man, whom he first saw on the internet and then bumped into on the street soon after.

There are many other parallels between Maupin's work and his life. The novelist Patrick Gale, one of Maupin's closest friends, observes: "The thing with Armistead's work is that it's so inextricable from his personality. This is true with a lot of novelists, but especially so with him because he so blatantly mines his own life for material." In his Tales, Maupin has taken what Gale describes as his "'Madame Bovary c'est moi' syndrome" to extraordinary lengths, spreading his personality among the characters, from gentle Michael to the out-of-towner naif Mary Ann Singleton to Mrs Madrigal, the wise landlady with a mysterious past.

Maupin explains that because he kept his homosexuality a secret until relatively late in life, and led "a secret interior life for so long, it has always felt very natural to bounce between very different characters". The Night Listener, one of two books that are not part of the Tales series (and which has been made into a film starring Robin Williams), seems to be the most closely autobiographical of all his novels. It tells of a popular San Franciscan storyteller, Gabriel, who made his name through "grabby little armchair yarns ... My characters were a motley but lovable bunch, people caught in the supreme joke of modern life who were forced to survive by making families of their friends" - which, in self-deprecating fashion, pretty much sums up the Tales series.

Maupin concedes that his novels "are all emotionally autobiographical, and I often need the fires of real life to get the fiction going. But I tamper with the facts to such a degree that I don't see them as autobiographies ... As long as it's fiction, you can get to the truth without embellishment. Vanity comes into play once the author starts suggesting that this is reality." It is for this reason, perhaps, that the book he feels closest to is Maybe the Moon, the story of a Jewish female dwarf's search for stardom in Hollywood: "I could say the most intimate things about myself and look into the darkest corners of my soul through her."

This sense of liberation coincided with his own self-discovery around the time he started to write Tales: "I've been very open about myself for years because, once I came out, I felt such exhilaration about telling the truth that I thought it had endless possibilities." He even came out to his parents - a conservative lawyer and housewife in North Carolina - in the same manner as Michael, who, in the second book of the series, writes a letter to his parents telling them that he is gay. Maupin wrote that letter when he was 33 - "too old".

Maupin was born in Washington DC in 1944 and grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina. A shy, unsporty boy, he compensated by storytelling: "I was the one who made everybody sit around the campfire and listen to my version of North Carolina ghost stories. I was quite humiliated at sports, so it was wonderful to discover when I was 10 that I had the power to control people that way." His favourite books as a child were the Hardy Boys mysteries, which "really whetted my appetite for storytelling", and the influence of their gripping storylines and cliffhanger chapter endings is clear in the Tales. A slightly later, and perhaps more surprising, influence were the films of Federico Fellini, which showed him that "there was another world out there with a great variety of humankind, far more than I could imagine in North Carolina".

Maupin was expected to follow in his father's footsteps and become a lawyer. However, law school proved to be rather uninspiring, so he "flunked out - although, if you ask my parents, I left". He then, improbably, worked briefly at the TV station of the notoriously rightwing senator Jesse Helms: "It was something I did to please my father, because deep down I knew I had this secret that would one day blow him out of the water," he says.

In the late 60s he enlisted in the navy and was posted to Vietnam, where his chief job was taking an admiral's wife and the wives of visiting dignitaries on shopping trips in Saigon - "they knew what to do with the queer boy". He also spent several months on the Cambodian border, where there were "a couple of mortar attacks but mainly it was pretty safe".

When he returned to the US, he worked for Associated Press in Charleston, and was posted to San Francisco when he was 27. He immediately loved the city, but hated the job, feeling restricted by the facts, the deadlines and the formulae, preferring instead "to spend hours polishing my prose". He quit after five months and wrote "a little weekly serial" for the local newspaper, Pacific Sun, about a woman who recently moved to San Francisco and the people she met in her building. In 1976, a columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle spotted it and recommended it to the newspaper's publisher. This became Tales of the City. "So I came in and met this very stuffy old gentleman and I said I wanted to write a serialised story about a new girl in town, not telling him who the new girl in town really was ..." Maupin recalls with a wicked laugh.

Even in the relatively liberated atmosphere of mid-1970s San Francisco, Maupin's tales of the lives of gay men in the city were a shock. There were references to bath houses, drugs and men cheating on their wives with men, but rarely any graphic details, and at first any suggestions that two men might be sleeping in the same bed were made obliquely.

After two more years of writing the column, Maupin was approached by a publisher to collate the instalments into a book. He spent two weeks hammering them together in Rock Hudson's house - with a dismissive wave, Maupin says he'd met the actor "in the usual gay way, there was a party ...", and they were briefly lovers, then lifelong friends - and these became the first two books in the series.

The tone was strikingly new. "It's not so much that he gave the gay world a voice, but that he gave it a sense of humour," says Peter Burton, the former literary editor of Gay Times. "Much of what was coming out of America at that time was either very po-faced or pulp." The novels were so unusual that it was rumoured that Maupin was a mysterious pseudonym, an idea aided by the discovery that his name is an anagram for "is a man I dreamt up". When one reader accused him of being "a lesbian collective in Marin County", he solemnly replied: "Sometimes I feel like a lesbian collective in Marin County, but I'm not."

Although Maupin's characters deal with highly emotive issues, not least Aids, the writing is always warm and lightly humorous, thereby bringing into the mainstream subjects that were still fairly off-limits at the time. But it was Maupin's depiction of gay and straight men comfortably mixing together that was particularly new. "He dared to remind the increasingly self-ghettoising gay communities around the world that life might be healthier and happier lived somewhere a little more mixed," says Patrick Gale. "He also dared to say that gay people can be air-headed jerks at a time when all gay fiction felt honour-bound to portray gay men as cute or victimised."

It is possibly for these reasons that some gay critics in America criticised Maupin, and continue to do so today. In Europe, Maupin is far more accepted by what he calls "the gay literary mavens" than he is in the States. In America, he didn't even make the Publishing Triangle's recent top 100 gay and lesbian authors, whereas he beat homegrown authors such as Sarah Waters and Alan Hollinghurst to win Britain's Big Gay Read. In The Night Listener, his doppelgänger narrator Gabriel confesses that he feels "illegitimate as a writer, as if I'd broken into the Temple of Literature through some unlocked basement window". But Maupin was very comforted by some advice his friend Christopher Isherwood gave him early on in his career: "Don't let anyone put you in a cubbyhole of being 'a gay author', and don't be embarrassed to create entertainment."

Michael Tolliver Lives, unlike the preceding Tales, is written in the first person, from the point of view of the eponymous Tolliver, who is now HIV positive. Maupin "lost whole generations of friends - and readers, I might add - to Aids, and I listened to their stories and try to appropriate them". The book also contains many swipes at the current political situation in the US - including references to "phony Florida elections", "secret American torture camps" and "a far-from-intelligent president". He wanted "to record the times and the fabric of San Francisco discourse".

Maupin has been compared to Mark Twain and Jack London for putting San Francisco on the literary map, and has become something of an urban landmark himself: taxi drivers point out his house, and Quentin Crisp once introduced him with the flourish: "This is Mr Maupin, he invented San Francisco." "It makes me incredibly proud, I love this city - it is part of my soul now," he says.

The elegiac tone of Michael Tolliver Lives has led some to assume that it is the last in the Tales of the City series. "Not at all," Maupin smiles. "I'm rejuvenated and this is the first chapter of a new series."


A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood

Alfred Hitchcock

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

Charles Dickens

La Dolce Vita by Federico Fellini

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Tolliver's Travels

Read the article on,,20041807,00.html

San Francisco icon Armistead Maupin tells EW about revisiting his ''City''-scape 18 years later in ''Michael Tolliver Lives,'' his feelings on closeted gay stars, taking his husband to meet his dying father, and the perils of self-Googling

By Jennifer Reese

Thirty-one years ago the San Francisco Chronicle published the first fizzy chapter of Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City, a serial set in sexually free-wheeling 1970s San Francisco. The characters were gay men, ladies who lunch, ladies who had once been gentlemen, and bewildered straight-arrows from the Midwest. The original Tales spawned five popular sequels, and a hit miniseries; Maupin is about to release Michael Tolliver Lives, the first update on his much-loved characters since 1989. EW talked to Maupin, 63, in the shingled San Francisco bungalow he shares with 35-year-old web producer Christopher Turner, whom he married in Vancouver five months ago.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Do you prefer ''queer'' or ''gay?''
ARMISTEAD MAUPIN: Either is fine. And I don't have a problem with ''faggot.'' Words are all about the tone in which they're spoken.

So, is it really true that your family only learned you were gay by reading Tales?
Pretty much. My mother knew before I knew that she knew because a girlfriend of mine — who apparently was expecting to receive a proposal from me — found out when she came to visit. So my mother knew and was creeping off to the stacks of the library in Raleigh, N.C., to study the subject without telling my father. Then, in 1977, I had Michael Tolliver write a letter to his parents, and that's when I date my personal statement to my parents.

It's all about how you define coming out.
There are celebrities who say, ''Well, I've never been in the closet!'' because they have a circle of friends who have made them feel safe. But they've never declared themselves to reporters and go to great lengths to avoid those questions. There are whole P.R. phalanxes organized to take care of those questions. Does that mean we cater to it? If a movie star were to conceal his Jewish origins because they felt bigots might not go to their movies, we wouldn't tolerate that. The message that's being sent by these stars who remain silent is that there's a dark secret that must be protected at all costs, and that perpetuates the stigma of homosexuality. It's that simple, as far as I'm concerned, and I have no respect for it.

But there's nothing new in that, right?
The situation in Hollywood is far more contemptible today than it was in the days of Rock Hudson. Rock was a friend of mine, and he didn't bother to get married again after that first beard marriage. He took young men to restaurants in Beverly Hills and he was relatively protected by the industry. Now the industry can't protect anyone from the press, so stars get married, have kids, and create a completely fake life for themselves, often with the help of the Church of Scientology. But we've got Rosie [O'Donnell], we've got Ellen [DeGeneres], we've got a lot of great smart folks. By the way, have you been catching Rosie lately? Whoo! She's good.

Do you watch a lot of TV?
I can tell you this: I'm going to be watching American Idol tonight. I'm torn tremendously about American Idol because I hate the moments when they mock the bad singers and weird people. On the other hand, I'm very touched by the process of watching these kids work their way toward their dreams and fall in love with each other in the process. Their tears seem to be genuine. And it's one of the few places on television where you can see a variety of young people. They're fat, they're skinny, they're of every race. And there seem to be a few gay people in there, though it's never talked about. They don't look like the kids on The O.C.

Now for books: Have you read anything lately that you liked?
I really loved a memoir called I Am Not Myself These Days by Josh Kilmer-Purcell. And I love the books of Stephen McCauley. He writes from the heart with great intelligence and restraint and sweetness.

You were one of the first fiction writers to address AIDS — in Babycakes, which was serialized in the San Francisco Chronicle in 1983. What kind of a response did you get?
A lot of people criticized me for interrupting their morning entertainment. A lot of gay people! They said I was pursuing a political agenda and Tales was supposed to be about entertainment. Of course it was really supposed to be about life, and that's what life had thrown us and I saw no way I could NOT write about it.

Unlike the other Tales novels, this one is written from one character's point of view: Michael's. Why the change?
I was interested in pursuing the life of an aging gay man, and I knew he would be the perfect vehicle. However, as soon as I started writing about Michael I found that one by one all the other characters stepped forward and asked to be present. And it felt natural, so I went with it.

How much do you care about what people write and say about your work?
[New York Times book critic] Janet Maslin eviscerated me on the last book and I didn't get over it for days, until I reminded myself that it was on the bottom of a bird cage somewhere. I think Janet was trying to show she could be Michiko [Kakutani, the New York Times' Pulitzer-winning lead book critic]. But when you reach a certain age, and a certain level of success, you can tell yourself you must be doing something right because people are still interested in what you have to say. And of course it feels good when you get praise. It feels like heaven. Especially if it's thoughtful, analytical praise.

There must be infinite possibilities to read about yourself on the Internet.
I Google myself all the time. I hate to admit it but I do. I'm a flagrant self-Googler. I think that's unhealthy after a point, especially if you're a people-pleaser like me because you obsess about the one person in the blogosphere who doesn't like you.

To what extent do you draw from your personal experience for your fiction?
I have a lot in common with all of my characters because I channel their personalities through my own emotional experience. Every writer I know works that way. But I do tend to lean heavily on my own experience to give my writing the ring of truth. If I can say it about myself, I can almost always say it about someone else, and the more shocking the revelation the more universal the experience. A remarkable number of people come up to me and say, I didn't know anyone else who did that!

When I was reading Anne Lamott's book Operating Instructions, she revealed the shocking fact that in the rigors of childbirth she delivered not only a baby but a small turd on the delivery table. I thought that was the boldest thing I'd ever heard anyone say and it made me love her more than I already did. It's also very clever in the end: You think this woman would not lie to me! I adore Annie. She's the only Christian I'll listen to.

A centerpiece of Michael Tolliver Lives is Michael's trip with his much younger partner to visit his conservative family in the South. Did you base the interlude on personal experience?
A few years ago, I got the news that my father was very close to death and it would probably be good if I came home. So I went with Christopher to North Carolina and my father was marvelously sweet and took a real shine to Christopher, which took some doing, I'm sure, given the fact that there's a 28-year age gap between us. But it was all in all a pretty lovely time and I was very glad my father had a chance to meet my new love. It's odd that that it should matter to you when you're over 60, that you're looking for approval from your 90-year-old father for your 30-something boyfriend. But amazingly he gave it to me. And even more amazingly we missed Jesse Helms by about half an hour. If that doesn't show you the convergence of the old and new South, I don't know what does.

You are very identified with San Francisco's gay Castro district, but you no longer live there. Do you miss it?
Well, it's five minutes away and I go almost every day. I like the Gayberry experience, as I call it. It really is a small town. I know the folks at the post office, the movie theater, the ice cream parlor, and it gives me a real sense of community. It gives me, in essence, the small-town family values that Red State America is so fond of talking about but doesn't really enjoy anymore.

Do you keep to a strict writing schedule?
I don't write continually. I'm the anti-Joyce Carol Oates, if you know what I mean. I've heard she actually writes novels in the backs of cars when she's on book tours. I find that completely reprehensible!

Could you imagine moving away from San Francisco?
No. Everything is better in San Francisco. Even our rich people.

What's next?
Another book about the Tales characters. I've lived in that world for 30 years, even when I was writing non-Tales books. Whatever I have to offer seems to come through those characters, and I see no reason to abandon them.

| Published in issue #939 Jun 15, 2007

Friday, June 1, 2007

Author Armistead Maupin cleans out the closets.

Truth Sayer

Author Armistead Maupin cleans out the closets.
by Leilani Labong
posted on June 01, 2007

Looking back on Armistead Maupin's work, you may recognize a theme of slippery identities—Anna Madrigal, the matriarchal landlady from Tales of the City, was once an Andrew, and the 2000 book (and subsequent 2006 film) The Night Listener was based on Maupin's real-life telephone friendship with a woman who posed as Anthony Godby Johnson, an imaginary 14-year-old boy dying of AIDS. His fascination with the topic could be attributed to the fact that the 63-year-old Parnassus Heights resident values integrity and candor in his own life—he's not shy about craving praise, or admitting that he's an American Idol fan. And, as you will see, one breath is all it takes for Maupin, who was raised in North Carolina, to make a dig at our country for not recognizing same-sex marriages and to condemn two celebs—by name, no less—for hindering the gay movement. The author will receive the Barbary Coast Award at the Litquake festival in October; his new book, Michael Tolliver Lives (HarperCollins)—a present-day tale about the beloved Tales of the City character—hits stores this month. Here, SF's most-beloved wordsmith speaks his mind.

Your name is interesting.

The BBC did a documentary on me they called Armistead Maupin is a Man I Dreamt Up. "Is a Man I Dreamt Up" is an anagram of Armistead Maupin, so that promulgated the notion that I was a work of fiction. I am technically Armistead Maupin Jr.—it's two family names stuck together. Southerners have a way of doing that.

Was Tales of the City meant for San Franciscans, or for outsiders?

When I was writing it, I thought it was a total in-joke. I had no idea it would have such global appeal. Many people around the world see San Francisco as their last great hope, full of possibilities and experimentation and earthly pleasures.

Tell us about Michael Tolliver Lives.

I've been reluctant to call it a continuation of Tales of the City because it's in first person and it focuses on one character. The people who've read it say, "Stop being coy—it is a continuation." It's Michael at 55; he's an HIV-positive gardener living in San Francisco with his husband of three years—they got married at City Hall—still friends with 85-year-old Anna Madrigal and a number of other characters from the old series who pop up. I told myself I was going to limit the cameos to only one or two, but they all came back and haunted me.

Your partner, Christopher, is 28 years younger than you are. What are the benefits and drawbacks of the age difference?

Believe me, it's mostly benefits as far as I'm concerned. I've never been this happy in a relationship, and that has more to do with Christopher's character and kindness than it does his age. But it is tough sometimes when I make '60s cultural references—I end up becoming a sort of a boring tutor. We just got married in Vancouver, BC, in February. We had to become expatriates to have our union recognized.

Are there any negative gay stereotypes in pop culture today?

The negative influences on the gay culture are being promulgated by people who are widely known to be gay and who continue to act as if it's a topic of non-discussion. I'm thinking specifically about people like Jodie Foster and Anderson Cooper. They're gay, but never talk about it. Go ahead and print that in 7x7!

No problem.

They are perpetuating the notion that being gay is a secret shame. We still respect closets far too much in this society.

Have you ever been interviewed by Anderson Cooper? Would you turn the tables on him?

No, I haven't been interviewed by him. And now I probably never will. I'd turn the tables on him. I've had a fair amount of success there, you know. I'm very proud of the fact that Ian McKellen once asked me if I thought he should come out, and I said yes—and he's credited me with that. I tend to be a little cheeky about this topic because I think it's important—there are teenagers still committing suicide over their sexuality.

Had you ever met or corresponded with JT LeRoy?

No. But I had a similar experience with Anthony Godby Johnson, essentially JT's predecessor. Even when I was suspecting Anthony Godby Johnson, I never doubted the stories I heard about JT LeRoy. JT showed up in public places, and of course the people who saw him said without a doubt that they thought it was a woman, but were too embarrassed to ask because they thought there was some politically correct transgender thing going on.

Litquake is honoring you in October ...

That's what I understand.

... do you like the limelight?

When people praise me, they often begin by saying, "I know you've heard this a thousand times.… " I tell them, "It doesn't mean I don't want to hear it again!" Writers are very insecure creatures, and praise is always welcome.

What's your most cherished possession?

Ian McKellen gave me a 16th-century clay pipe that he dug out of the mud at the Rose Theatre in London. Apparently, traces of cannabis have been found on a number of those pipes. There may have been a lot of high people watching those early Shakespearean productions [laughs].

Do you smoke dope every day?

Yes, ma'am, I do.