Sunday, 16 February 2014


'Tales of the City' creator, Armistead Maupin, has been in London this weekend for an appearance at the Guardian Review Book Club.  Lately Gay was there to meet him.

It was appropriate last night that the latest session of the Guardian Book Club took place in a converted church where some two hundred devotees had gathered, almost to 'worship' the evening's guest, Armistead Maupin.

Maupin is currently on an international tour promoting his latest (and he insists, final) volume of his Tales of the City series, 'The Days of Anna Madrigal'. (pub. Harper Collins, pp 270)

For those that have never had any contact with the Tales novellas, they are the chronicle of an intriguing collection of colourful misfits who have made it to that rare example of an American city.   An exceptional metropolis where, to be out of step with the world, has been regarded as much a virtue as a disgrace.  Possibly since the arrival of the Beatniks in the 50s, if not before.

Appearing at some twenty-six evenings in only two months, Armistean Maupin has zig-zagged, unerringly, all the way from Albuquerqee, New Mexico to Glasgow, Scotland; and surely there's a song begging to be made out of that itinerary.

This Book Club event, sponsored by the Guardian Review, was something like date No.24, not forgetting the many interviews, radio and tv spots along the way, however, the author appeared not in the least bit jaded.

The Days of Anna Madrigal in the ninth
and final volume of the Tales of the City Series

While the highly personable moderator, John Mullan (Professor of English - London University), was there to lead a discussion on the original 'Tales of the City' book, he was keenly aware that before him was an audience of acolytes who wanted to talk about the whole canon.  This was very much a family affair, as when a greatly loved, but distant uncle comes to visit from all the way across the pond for one night only.  This congregation wanted to discuss EVERYTHING.

After the initial discussion the floor was opened up to a question-and-answer session but with each stop of the microphone there came first the personal eulogies as to the impact Maupin's work had made.  How he had been essential in humanising the perception of homosexual and transgender folk, how he had provided a window into the possibility of a gay life for closeted people, and how much of a comfort he had been for fledgling gays emerging into a straight world.

Portrait of the author by his husband, photographer Chris Turner

Little wonder that the evening concluded with a prolonged standing ovation.  This was not, though,  some display of Trekkie-like adulation. Instead, it was a heartfelt display of great gratitude.  Received, characteristically, by Maupin with clear modesty.

At this stage he could have bagged his ovation and run but instead he spent an astonishing two hours signing copies of 'The Days of Anna Madrigal', giving everyone as much time as they wanted.

Asked towards the end of the night just where he could summon the energy to cope with the rigours of such a gruelling schedule, he gestured towards the patient queue and said, simply, '... from all this love!'

Since 1978 the Tales books have received lavish critical praise

While that may be it for the Tales series, Maupin was asked what he had next in the pipeline. To the obvious enthusiasm of the audience he announced that he had in mind a one-man show.  'In my younger days I'd seen Quentin Crisp do his show and, yeah, I think I'd like to do something like that.' he confessed.

Having spoken on that morning's Graham Norton Show on BBC Radio he told the host it would be good to have something he could take somewhere like the Edinburgh Festival.  It seems his fans may not have to wait too long at all as the organisers have already been on the phone.

'Now it looks like I've actually got to do it!'  He joked in mock despair.

At the evening's end, satisfied that he'd finally fulfilled all his signing obligations, he was escorted, alone, to a waiting car.  

He hadn't got away yet, though.  A final burst of applause echoed out of the venue bar accompanying his departure. 

He turned briefly in the doorway, a little surprised, and gave a final, shy wave, then he was gone.  No entourage, no personal assistant, just Armistead Maupin.  A remarkable teller of tales.   SMcK

Lately Gay editor, Stephen McKenna, meeting Maupin during the signing session.

'Cheekily, I'd brought along my copy of the first volume as well as the latest and asked him to sign it too, which he did without demur. It really was a remarkable night. Armistead's books helped me feel good about myself and my sexuality and I'm greatly indebted to him for that.'

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