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Writer Armistead Maupin read the first chapter of his new book, “Mary Ann in Autumn,” Thursday night as part of the Bee Book Club. The adoring audience hung on his every word, whether it was the familiar-sounding yet new prose of “Maryann in Autumn” or his reminiscing about his life and his very popular “Tales of the City” book series. With this latest book, the series now stands at eight titles. Maupin also wrote two standalone novels.
When Maupin started writing about what was essentially his life, it opened a door for the straight community for a look into the gay community. What was to become “Tales of the City” started in the San Francisco edition of the Pacific Sun.
In 1976 it had been picked up by the San Francisco Chronicle and began running as a five-day-a-week serial now titled “Tales of the City.” Maupin turned the Chronicle series into the first three “Tales” novels.
Maupin stopped reading at the end of the first chapter. He did not want to give too much of what happens in the book away. He said, “He hates when people give away things, even from the first books.”
When the series first ran in San Francisco, there was some criticism that Maupin was giving too much away about the gay community. To many gays, life was about living in a private, secret club, and they did not want outsiders to know what the club was up to.
He spoke of not writing about the gay community, but of writing about things in his life and that he happened to be gay and so were many of the people around him. Maupin had started out the reading referring to his characters as “your neighbors and your friends.”
This did not stop his editors at the Chronicle from trying to limit the number of gay characters in the series. One of the funniest stories he told was of a chart his editors had literally placed on the wall. It had one column for gay characters and one column for straight characters. He was told that he must maintain a specific ratio of gay characters to straight characters. In one plotline, DeDe Halcyon’s mother woke from being pasted out in the garden to find the family dog “attempting to have sex with her leg.” Maupin gleefully put the dog in the straight column.
When asked about how Mary Ann had started out as such a sympathetic character and had become such a “bitch,” Maupin feigned insult, since there was a lot of him in Mary Ann and that most of the characters are based on him.
When asked what took him so long to write this latest book, he spoke of how agonizing writing is for him.
“It is like laying mosaic tile,” he said. But when you step back, you can see how it all fits together.
Maupin became most excited when asked about the musical adaptation of “Tales of the City” currently in development at San Francisco’s ACT. Jeff Whitty, who wrote the book for “Avenue Q,” and Jason Moore, its director, are working on the production. Maupin said he couldn’t be happier. What seemed to make him ecstatic is that the producers are in negotiations with Broadway’s Betty Buckley to play Anna Madrigal.
After the question period, fans lined up the full length of the Tsakapoulos Library Galleria to have their copies of the book signed. He patiently spoke with each person as he signed their books. Most had some story of why “Tales of the City” had had some importance in their lives.
I spoke with Armistead Maupin for a few minutes after the crowd left.
The Sacramento Press: Are you aware of what you describe in “Mary Ann in Autumn” is no longer a San Francisco phenomenon, but that this mixing of gay and straight friends and family occurs in places like Sacramento?
Armistead Maupin: “I am very aware of it.” He went on to talk about how it happens in every city of any consequence throughout America.
SP: Was “Tales of the City” part of this?
AM: “It’s gay marriage.” He continued speaking about how wherever same-sex couples are getting married, the whole family and friends are involved. There is also the visibility created by the fight for gay marriage and its allies.
Armistead Maupin photos: Bill Burgua "Tales of the City" musical: American Contemporary Theatre (ACT)