Armistead Maupin Introduction - Essay

Introduction

Armistead Maupin 1944–

American journalist and novelist.

The following entry presents an overview of Maupin's life and career.

Maupin's novels are noted for their witty, realistic dialogue, bizarre plot twists, memorable characters, and the presentation of gay life as an integral part of the broader social milieu. His critically acclaimed six-novel Tales of the City series is set in San Francisco during the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, and follows the lives of numerous characters. Maupin's main themes include homosexuality, alienation and discrimination, religion, sex and drugs, and love and romance. Critics have noted that with the advent of the AIDS crisis, his later works have taken a more serious and somber tone.

Biographical Information

Born and raised in North Carolina, Maupin graduated from the University of North Carolina in 1966. He became a highly decorated soldier during the Vietnam War and was honored by the president of the United States. In the early 1970s he formally disclosed his homosexuality and moved from North Carolina to San Francisco, where he pursued a career in journalism. While writing for the San Francisco Chronicle he created the popular "Tales of the City" newspaper serial about people and life in the Bay Area; the characters became the protagonists of the six novels that comprise the Tales of the City series. Maupin has also written for the stage and screen and, in 1992, published Maybe the Moon, which is a departure from the Tales series.

Major Works

The Tales of the City series—Tales of the City (1978), More Tales of the City (1980), Further Tales of the City (1982), Babycakes (1984), Significant Others (1987), and Sure of You (1989)—are set in San Francisco and follow the lives of Mary Ann Singleton, Michael ("Mouse") Tolliver, Brian Hawkins, Mona, Dede, Jonathan, Mr. Halcyon, and the mysterious Anna Madrigal, who oversees the lives of her tenant "family" at 28 Barbary Lane. In Tales of the City Mary Ann leaves the midwest to make a new life for herself in San Francisco during the 1970s; Michael, a gay neighbor who is currently between lovers, befriends her. Mrs. Madrigal, the landlord, becomes very protective of Mary Ann and all her tenants. Eventually, Michael falls in love with Jonathan, a young doctor and Dede Halcyon's gynecologist. Mrs. Madrigal also takes particular interest in Mona, a new tenant and friend of Michael. More Tales of the City follows Mary Ann and Michael in their search for love on a Mexican cruise ship. Back in San Francisco, Mary Ann and Michael also become embroiled in a bizarre series of circumstances, which involve an amnesia victim and lead to the discovery of a secret Christian cannibal cult that is operating out of Grace Cathedral. As the story draws to a close, Michael and Jonathan permanently get together, and Mrs. Madrigal reveals two very important secrets. In Babycakes, which begins with Queen Elizabeth II's royal visit to San Francisco, Mary Ann has become a successful TV reporter and has married. The mood of Babycakes is decidedly somber, as the AIDS issue is introduced into Michael's life and the rest of the characters at 28 Barbary Lane. As Significant Others begins, Jonathan has died from AIDS, Michael has AIDS, and Mary Ann has become a very popular local talk show hostess; Dede Halcyon, her twin Eurasian children, and her lover Dorothea spend a week at Camp Wimminwood, a summer music camp for lesbians. Meanwhile, Brian, Michael, and Booter are up-river at the Bohemian Grove, which is a summer camp for heterosexual men. In Sure of You, the last novel of the Tales series, 28 Barbary Lane has closed. Mrs. Madrigal goes off to Greece with Mona, but career-minded Mary Ann decides to leave San Francisco, her husband and child, and go to New York City. Maybe the Moon (1992) is a departure from the Tales series and is a first-person narrative about the life of a heterosexual dwarf actress who lives in Los Angeles and pursues a career in films.

Critical Reception

Most commentators on the Tales of the City novels have applauded Maupin as a chronicler and satirist of contemporary American culture and have praised the realism and flow of his dialogue and the way he handles homosexual themes. Furthermore, many have commented favorably on his use of short chapters, outrageous plot twists, and his ability to interweave complicated subplots. Some critics, however, have faulted Maybe the Moon for its weak presentation of the themes of discrimination and alienation, and for its stereotypical portrayal of Los Angeles and the film industry.