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Tales of Armistead Maupin

By Evelyn Tsitas - posted Thursday, 17 March 2011


For American author and gay activist Armistead Maupin, there is only one place to call home - San Francisco, the city that inspired his enormously popular social comedy series Tales of the City.

"I cruise other countries, but I come home to San Francisco in my head," he said.

Maupin generously praised Australia's "Victorian buildings and wide open spaces" during his March visit. However, for him, the city that invented the words hippie, beatnik and hoodlum reflect an attitude and a way people live that breathed life into him when he arrived in the 1970s as a conservative, "in the closet" Vietnam veteran.

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Maupin is currently on tour promoting his new book, Mary Ann in Autumn, which is the 8th in the Tales of the City Series. The woman in the title is Maupin's much loved character Mary Ann Singleton, whom he has chronicled from her move to San Francisco and her developing relationship with the people she meets, including life in a bohemian boarding house run by the transgender matriarch Mrs Madrigal.

The rest of the world may be a long way from Mrs Madrigal's "comfy old apartment house" on 28 Barbary Lane, but Maupin stressed his Tales series runs concurrent to gay culture. As soon as a country amasses a gay middle class, Maupin said, "my books take off when that rainbow flag starts flying".

Maupin, who started the series as a weekly column in the local newspaper in the 1970s, said he struggled with telling his parents he was gay.

"At that time, homosexuality was a mental illness and a crime, but I was in San Francisco discovering the bath houses and finding myself as a gay man."

But this conflict and duplicity was also helpful in his career. Maupin cheerfully admits that as a writer "it is your job to be a fake."

"I have always been writing about everyone and for everyone, even though I am proud of my activism," Maupin told the largely gay audience at Melbourne's Athenaeum Theatre during his recent Australian tour. His public lecture – hosted by actor Noni Hazlehurst, - was part of the Wheeler Centre's Big Gay Week.

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"When it comes to my writing, I am trying to tap into something that is going on in society," he said.

"For me, in the emerging gay culture of San Francisco in the 1970s, I was on a rampage."

It is fitting that a new musical version of Tales of the City, starring Betty Buckley, will workshop at American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco in June, with music and lyrics by Jake Shears and John Garden of the Scissor Sisters.

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About the Author

Dr Evelyn Tsitas works at RMIT University and has an extensive background in journalism (10 years at the Herald Sun) and communications. As well as crime fiction and horror, she writes about media, popular culture, parenting and Gothic horror and the arts and society in general. She likes to take her academic research to the mass media and to provoke debate.

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