Maupin, Armistead

views updated

MAUPIN, Armistead

MAUPIN, Armistead (b. 13 May 1944), writer.

A southern son and graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Maupin grew up in a conservative, religious, and traditional environment in the relatively small city of Raleigh, North Carolina. After graduating with a major in English, he abandoned law school, joined the U.S. Navy, and fought in the Vietnam War. He received a commendation from President Richard Nixon for his involvement in rebuilding housing in Vietnam for disabled Vietnamese veterans of the war. Back in the United States, Maupin began a career in journalism and even spent some time working for North Carolina senator Jesse Helms. However, with a move to San Francisco to work for the Associated Press in 1971, everything changed.

In the spring of 1976, the first brief installment of his daily column "Tales of the City" appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle (it had started earlier at the Pacific Sun and moved to the Chronicle when the Sun folded). These commentaries would become some of the most widely read and widely praised texts of gay literature over the following thirty years. Consisting of six novels published between 1978 and 1989, the Tales are surely Maupin's great contribution to the literature of contemporary U.S. culture. The novels have been likened to the works of Charles Dickens in their initial newspaper serialization and as documentaries of the social, political, and ethical zeitgeist.

The first novel, Tales of the City (1978), introduces the principal characters: Mary Ann Singleton, fresh into San Francisco from Cleveland; her landlady at 28 Barbary Lane, the inscrutable and marvelous Anna Madrigal; her gay neighbor, Michael (Mouse) Tolliver; and the elite but scandal-ridden Halcyon family. The adventures continue in the second installment, More Tales of the City (1980), and the third, Further Tales of the City (1982). The fourth book, Babycakes (1984), has a more somber tone, as it is one of the first fictional chronicles of the earliest days of the AIDS crisis, which hit San Francisco—and especially Maupin's Castro district—so hard in the first half of the 1980s. Maupin's account of AIDS and its implications in Babycakes, Significant Others (1987), and Sure of You (1989), the final installment in the series, represents an important social and literary record of ground zero of the AIDS pandemic, and the entire series is also an insightful and beautiful representation of queer families, love, loss, and the glories of the mundane, all described with great wit, intelligence, and passion. In a review of Sure of You in the New York Times Book Review (22 October 1989), gay novelist David Feinberg wrote, "AIDS pervades the book.

The mood is rawer, tenderer, sadder than the earlier books in the series, with an undercurrent of anger"(p. 26). It is clear that the devastation of the gay community of the 1980s finally overtook the author of Tales, and his series is likewise important because of its perhaps unconscious rage against that decade of silence and death.

The popularity of the Tales has made Maupin something of a celebrity, and he has used his fame, such as it is, to be an advocate for gay and lesbian causes as well as to point out hypocrisy in the media and in Hollywood. Beginning in the late 1980s, for example, Maupin became a loud voice in support of outing gay people in high places. His work has had another impact on the media as well. Several of the Tales books have been filmed for television, prompting some censorship battles with the Public Broadcasting System and other venues. Maupin penned the screenplay for the award-winning 1995 documentary The Celluloid Closet (by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, based on Vito Russo's The Celluloid Closet: Homosexuality in the Movies [1981], a study of homosexuality in Hollywood). Maupin is one of the film's interviewees, along with such notables as Gore Vidal, Susie Bright, Susan Sarandon, Tom Hanks, Shirley MacLaine, Quentin Crisp, and Whoopi Goldberg.

In the dozen years after closing the door at 28 Barbary Lane, Maupin published what is perhaps his least successful novel, Maybe the Moon (1992), and what may be his best ever, The Night Listener (2001). The latter book chronicles Maupin's breakup with his longtime lover and business partner, Terry Anderson, as well as his correspondence with the elusive Tony Johnson, purported author of the autobiographical A Rock and a Hard Place (1993). Maupin's novel is a stunning portrait of the aftermath of a long-term relationship and a beautiful, moving depiction of father-son relationships. Arguably, The Night Listener mixes fiction and reality as well as any book ever has.


Feinberg, David. Review of Sure of You, by Armistead Maupin. New York Times Book Review, 22 October 1989, 26.

Gale, Patrick. Armistead Maupin. Bath, England: Absolute Press, 1999.

"Life and Works of Armistead Maupin." Available from, Maupin's website.

Maupin, Armistead. 28 Barbary Lane: A Tales of the City Omnibus. New York: HarperCollins, 1990.

——. Back to Barbary Lane: The Final Tales of the City Omnibus. HarperCollins, 1991.

——. The Night Listener. New York: HarperCollins, 2000.

Chris Freeman

see alsocomedy and humor; coming out and outing; literature; russo, vito.

About this article

Maupin, Armistead

Updated About content Print Article