Armistead Maupin

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Armistead Jones Maupin (MAW-pihn), Jr., is a an openly gay novelist known primarily for his casual storytelling style and passionate desire to relate an inclusive portrait of the universal human experience. Born in Washington, D.C., in 1944 as the eldest of three children, Maupin grew up in the conservative environment of Raleigh, North Carolina, in the 1950’s and 1960’s. His family was descended from a Confederate general. Maupin’s father, Armistead Jones Maupin, was a leading southern lawyer who wished for his son to follow in his footsteps. While growing up, however, Maupin explored his early creative impulses by acting in local theater productions with his mother, Diana Jane (Barton) Maupin, an amateur actress. Armistead Maupin graduated in 1966 with a B.A. in English from the University of North Carolina (UNC). Following his father’s wishes, he abandoned his study of English to enter UNC’s law school, but having failed his first-year exams, Maupin quit school and worked as a reporter at the WRAL television station in Raleigh with conservative senator Jesse Helms, one of the station’s executives. Maupin left the station to enter the U.S. Navy’s officer candidate school and served as a communications officer in the Mediterranean region. He then volunteered for duty in Vietnam, where he served with the River Patrol Force as a lieutenant from 1967 to 1970. For his service, Maupin received the Navy Commendation Medal. After the war, he organized a group of American veterans to return to Vietnam and build homes for disabled Vietnamese veterans and was subsequently awarded the Freedom Leadership Award and a Presidential Commendation from U.S. president Richard Nixon in 1972.

By 1970, Maupin had begun working as a journalist for the Charleston News & Courier in South Carolina, covering the military beat and writing an occasional feature article, but he left the newspaper in 1971 to accept a position with the Associated Press (AP) in San Francisco for a year. This move from the conservative South to the more tolerant and liberal West Coast proved to be a watershed in Maupin’s life. The atmosphere of tolerance and free expression he found in San Francisco encouraged him to announce his homosexuality publicly in 1974.

After leaving the Associated Press in 1972, Maupin worked at a variety of jobs, including operating as a public relations account executive (1973), organizing publicity for the San Francisco Opera (1975), and commentating for KRON-TV (1979). His first job as a regular columnist came in 1974, when he began writing for the Pacific Sun newspaper. After an assignment covering an event known as “singles night,” in which single people went to a Safeway supermarket to find a date, Maupin created the character of Mary Ann Singleton and began writing a weekly fictional series for the paper.

Maupin left the Pacific Sun in 1976 and pitched his serial to the San Francisco Chronicle, which quickly picked up Maupin’s idea, and “Tales of the City” was born. The highly popular, eight-hundred-word daily installments followed several characters who live in a large, tumbledown boardinghouse on 28 Barbary Lane in San Francisco, with Anna Madrigal as the eccentric landlady of the house. However, the series follows much more than the daily lives of Mary Ann Singleton, Michael “Mouse” Tolliver, Mona Ramsey, and Brian Hawkins; it also serves as a historical record of San Francisco’s culture, events, institutions, and local lifestyles from the mid-1970’s through the late-1980’s, including the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) crisis. Maupin briefly stopped writing the series in 1977 in order to collect and revise each set of 115 installments into books; the first, Tales of the City, was published in 1978. More Tales of the City soon followed. The San Francisco Chronicle ran a second series of installments from 1981 to 1983, from which the books Further Tales of the City and Babycakes were derived. Maupin’s ten-year...

(The entire section is 1,440 words.)