Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Madrigal Mystery Tour with Armistead Maupin


Armistead Maupin stunned San Francisco when he announced last month that he was leaving the city by the bay, the very city with which he is synonymous for his legendary series Tales of the City. Maupin is as San Francisco as are the Golden Gate Bridge, Beach Blanket Babylon and the hippies of Haight-Ashbury. Maupin leaving San Francisco is like moving the Statue of Liberty out of New York. But alas, it’s true. Maupin and his husband Christopher Turner are moving to Santa Fe, New Mexico. But first, they will criss-cross the country, landing in Provincetown before heading to the Land of Enchantment.

“Yes, it was a huge decision,” says Maupin, riding in a car leaving Lincoln, Nebraska, where he stopped with Turner for a veggie wrap. “We need more sky and more nature. We don’t have a place to live yet. It’s curiously liberating. I needed to shake the cobwebs and go on a new adventure.”

To cleanse the mental palate, Maupin and Turner are traveling around the United States on what some have dubbed “The Madrigal Mystery Tour,” so named for the beloved landlady in his novels. The mid-point destination of the trip is Provincetown, where the two have rented a house in the far East End where Maupin plans to write. He will also present two readings from his next book in the Tales of the City series, a work-in-progress titled The Days of Anna Madrigal, at the Crown and Anchor this month.

This next tale focuses on Mrs. Madrigal, the transgender, pot-smoking owner of 28 Barbary Lane, jumping back and forth through time as an old woman and back to her childhood as a little boy growing up in a Nevada brothel. On their road trip, Maupin stopped in Winnemucca, Nevada, a town that was once home to fabulously ornate bordellos, to do research on brothels for the book.

“Oh dear, we’re passing a chicken truck. It’s the saddest thing,” says Maupin, momentarily distracted by the sights of the Nebraska highway. “Brothels aren’t what they used to be. [The] 1930’s Winnemucca would be embarrassed by the sad state of whorehouses today.”

Despite the decline in the sophisticated brothel, Maupin says he is excited by this latest continuation of a storyline that has meant so much to so many readers, as well as to the culture of San Francisco and for documenting the LGBT experience. His work grew from a column in the San Francisco Chronicle in the 1970s to a series of bestselling books, to movies, and now a stage musical. It’s been thrilling to watch his work and characters grow legs of their own, says Maupin.

“It’s heavenly to have other artists to come on board with your work,” says Maupin. “I’m a huge fan of most of the artists that have interpreted my work over the years. It makes you believe in the mythology.”

Maupin first arrived in San Francisco in 1971, still a time of hippies and be-ins, and also on the cusp of the days of Harvey Milk and gay rights. His start at writing fictionalized serials in the newspaper was, even for the time, an aging art – one he reinvigorated. But in today’s world, where technological changes have shifted writing to the Internet and corporate media ownership is strangling that creativity, Maupin sees these live readings as so important for writers to personalize the stories, rather than have them only on the page, or on a glowing screen.

“I was basically blogging my life through fiction for 36 years,” says Maupin of his Tales of the City stories. “All the action is really online these days, which is harder as there are so many options. It was easier to reach an audience before. It’s good and bad as far as I’m concerned. There are so many options, good stuff gets lost. I tell new writers just to reach a human audience. Print it and put it in a coffeehouse. Just reach a human audience. That’s why I do the readings. It is so important to have that eye-to-eye contact.”

Maupin has been to Provincetown several times before, but this marks the first time he is doing any public event. Fascinated by Provincetown, he chose to stay a month to be able to learn more about the town as a community rather than a tourist destination. He also plans to get work done, and plan for his next phase of life in New Mexico.

“Thinking about my work has me reflecting on my own personality,” says Maupin. “A friend once told me Michael Tolliver was the person I wish I was and that Mary Ann is the person I’m afraid I am. It takes a close friend to observe and be able to tell you that.”

Teatime with Armistead Maupin is at the Paramount at the Crown and Anchor, 247 Commercial St. on Monday, July 9 and Friday, July 20 at 4 p.m. Tickets are $25 for general admission and $35 for VIP and are available at the box office or at A book signing and after party will be at the Wave Bar at the Crown and Anchor immediately following the event. For more information call 508.487.1430 or visit

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