Between the Lines: Armistead Maupin closes the book on ‘Tales of the City’

The Days of Anna Madrigal, a novel by Armistead Maupin
The Days of Anna Madrigal, a novel by Armistead Maupin

For decades, Armistead Maupin has been a household name in the Bay Area and in gay communities in cities throughout the world.

The novelist’s acclaim begin in 1976, when he took his 2-year-old serialized newspaper “novel” “The Serial” from the San Francisco edition of the Pacific Sun to the San Francisco Chronicle. There it ran as “Tales of the City” and flourished in weekday installments. The collective city eagerly awaited the next day’s tale, and the buzz permeated every social strata. The centerpiece of “City” was the fictitious apartment house at 28 Barbary Lane in San Francisco. It was populated with a mixed crew of emotionally laden gay and straight characters who were “mothered” by Anna Madrigal, their wise transgender landlady.

Now, after the publication of eight “Tales”-centric novels over three-plus decades, (translated into 15 languages), and a TV miniseries, Maupin has finally brought the saga to a gently sentimental close. The last of the Barbary Lane dramas is the new “The Days of Anna Madrigal,” an elegy of sorts to the San Francisco of the 1970s (Harper, $16, 288 pages).

As her closest friends leave the city for a weeklong revel at Burning Man, Anna, now 92, wants to reconcile a few issues from her past that have haunted her for decades. To that end, she and her caretaker climb into a battered RV and take off for Winnemucca, Nev., where she will “unearth a lifetime of secrets and dreams and attend to unfinished business she has long avoided.”

Maupin appeared for the Bee Book Club in 2010. I interviewed him in his Parnassus Heights home shortly before the event. He said something at the time that now seems rather prescient, given the new book and Anna Madrigal’s last journey: “Certainly when we revisit our pasts we have to confront the consequences of not only our actions, but our inactions. It’s sometimes the things we didn’t do that we regret the most.”

In the day, the “Tales” serialization was shocking because it opened the door to the gay lifestyle unseen by most straight people. “There were gay people who complained that I revealed too much about the so-called subculture,” Maupin said, “but I’m not writing about gay people – I’m writing about everyone.”

Though the Chronicle serialization was deliciously witty and satirical, there was a second agenda. “The frivolity was how I was able to drive across issues such as AIDS, lesbian mothers, gay-bashing and the gay-marriage movement,” Maupin said. “The first fictional death from AIDS appeared in ‘Babycakes’ in 1983 (after a friend died of it). My rule from the beginning has been to follow my own life, and I go wherever it takes me.”

That path led him to document the stories of the LGBT community in San Francisco, which ultimately helped open closet doors around the world – and entertain 6 million readers along the way.

Book notes

▪ If you missed it as a best-selling hardback, you’ve got a second chance with the paperback of “All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood” (Ecco, $16, 316 pages). Jennifer Senior takes on the topic of how children reshape the lives of their parents. All aspects are there – the marriage itself, and the jobs, lifestyles, friends and “their internal senses of self.” Parents will recognize plenty on each page.

▪ Punk-sound pioneers the Ramones rocked from 1974 till their farewell concert in 1996. Now Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee and Tommy have all died. Surviving them is Marc Bell, who became an “honorary” Ramone nicknamed “Marky,” and who sometimes played with the band. His memoir “Punk Rock Blitzkrieg” recalls their raunchy days of touring the world (Touchstone, $28, 403 pages).

▪ The notion of tracking down and confronting that grade-school bully who made your life miserable is a tempting idea. Allen Kurzwell did just that, and chronicles it in “Whipping Boy: The 42-Year Search for My 12-year-old Bully” (Haprer, $28, 304 pages). In his sojourn for justice, he encounters some very unusual characters.

▪ In “Cane and Abe” by best-seller James Grippando, top prosecutor in the Miami State Attorney’s Office becomes the suspect in series of gruesome murders (Harper, $25, 368 pages). The author is an ex-trial attorney who has written 22 thrillers.

For beginning writers

The Gold Country Writers group, the “literary affiliate” of Placer Arts, hosts authors and speakers at its meetings every third Wednesday of each month. Appearing at 10 a.m. Jan. 21 will be Christina Richter, author of “Come Walk With Me.” Her program will guide beginning writers through the basic mechanics of writing a nonfiction book. The venue is the Placer Arts Building, 808 Lincoln Way, Auburn. Information: (530) 613-1153,

Call The Bee’s Allen Pierleoni, (916) 321-1128. Follow him on Twitter @apierleonisacbe.


If you have information on author appearances or other book-related special events, email it to at least two weeks before the event. To read the online calendar, go to Questions? Call The Bee’s Allen Pierleoni, (916) 321-1128.

Related stories from Sacramento Bee