Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Maupin brings one of 'Tales' to our city

June 18, 2008, 6:01 p.m.
Tucson Citizen

Though he writes fiction, Armistead Maupin is as personally associated with his work as a David Sedaris or Augusten Burroughs. This is not something he discourages. In fact, as we chatted Monday, he shared some happy news: He and husband Christopher Turner, who wed in Vancouver, British Columbia, last year, were - that very day - seen as married in the inclusive eyes of California.

"I didn't know until yesterday the state will recognize marriages from Canada," he says, at home in San Francisco. "As of today, we're married. . . . It's kind of a strange and wonderful thing."

He ponders whether he'll have another ceremony - the first, he recalls, was at a bed-and-breakfast with just two witnesses - and considers a party a solid option.

"I'm 64 years old," he reasons. "I have all the blenders I need."

What he doesn't have enough of are his beloved "Tales of the City" characters, an assortment of San Franciscans whose adventures began as a serial in the San Francisco Chronicle in the mid-1970s. The fictional adventures launched two years after the Southern-bred Maupin, then a journalist, came out as homosexual publicly, and the tales have proved to be important gay touchstones in popular culture.

The first "Tales of the City" book was published in the '80s, with five to follow on through 1989's "Sure of You." ("Tales" has also been made into a miniseries, starring Olympia Dukakis and Laura Linney.) Maupin returned to 28 Barbary Lane, the focal point for the characters, in 2007 with "Michael Tolliver Lives," in which a 55-year-old Tolliver lives with AIDS.

In May, "Tolliver" came out in paperback, so it is with that news hook the Pima County Public Library's Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Committee brings Maupin to the Loft Cinema for its annual hosting of a GLBT author. Past speakers include young adult novelist Alex Sanchez, cartoonist and memoirist Alison Bechdel and "Savage Love" columnist Dan Savage. Maupin will read from "Michael Tolliver" and answer questions.

Next up for the writer is a novel centered on another Barbary Lane resident, Mary Ann Singleton. He has the title - "Mary Ann in Autumn" - and "the plot has been percolating."

"She's trying to launch a new life," Maupin says of Mary Ann, declining to elaborate further. "I have an awful lot of women friends in their late 50s who want to reinvent themselves," women who find themselves suddenly solo after divorce or the death of a partner.

"It's also something of a mystery story. It will have elements of the old 'Tales of the City' stories where there are coincidences and wild twists and turns."

But "Tales" news doesn't stop there: Maupin says "Tales of the City" is being reinterpreted as a Broadway musical, planned for the 2009-2010 season.

Maupin is in hip company. At the helm is writer Jeff Whitty ("Avenue Q"), with music by Jake Shears and John Garden, both of the Scissor Sisters.

"I couldn't be happier. They're very cool, young people," Maupin says. The musical will draw from the first book, plus some elements of Mother Mucca's Whorehouse from "More Tales of the City." "They didn't want to miss out on the whorehouse. And who does?"

In the 30-plus years since Maupin penned his first "Tales" story, GLBT representation in popular culture has grown from occasional (yet frequently insulting) to what the author now sees as "an embarrassment of riches."

"It's hard to keep track of everything that comes down the pike that speaks to gay life. . . . We're moving toward a position where it is just another aspect of life. I hope we're moving past that point of saying 'it's a gay film' or 'a gay TV show.' We no longer assume, in our culture, that we're any one thing."

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