Saturday, March 26, 2011

Tennessee Williams Festival: a conversation with Armistead Maupin

Posted By on Sat, Mar 26, 2011 at 5:06 PM

Armistead Maupin arrives at the Tennessee Williams Festival.
  • Armistead Maupin arrives at the Tennessee Williams Festival.
The Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival wrapped up for the afternoon with “A Conversation With Armistead Maupin,” author of the Tales of the City series. Maupin, who said he hadn’t been to New Orleans in 21 years, seemed to be having a fine time, enjoying mint juleps and discussing topics as wide-ranging as Elizabeth Taylor, Jesse Helms, writing about AIDS in the early 1980s and moving to San Francisco after serving in the Vietnam War. The moderator was Ted O’Brien, co-host of “Writer’s Forum” on WRBH-FM. (Will Coviello interviewed Maupin for this week’s paper.)

Maupin, who grew up in Raleigh, N.C., told the audience, “There’s a storytelling tradition in the South; I stay away from calling it an oral tradition, because that’s when the jokes start.

The Tales of the City novels began as a newspaper serial in the early 1970s, Maupin said, when he was a lifestyle reporter for a small paper in Marin County, Calif. When that paper folded, he was picked up by the San Francisco Chronicle in 1976, which began running his serial five days a week — “800 words a day,” he told the audience gathered in the Royal Sonesta hotel ballroom. The serial ran for many years, covering the 1970s singles scene, the Jonestown massacre, the Reagan years, the gay rights movement and the dawn of AIDS, the advent of yuppies and quite a bit more. The columns were collected in six volumes, and Maupin has written two more, including last year’s Mary Ann in Autumn. A musical based on the books will open in San Francisco, Maupin said.

Maupin compared New Orleans to San Francisco, calling both cities seductive and charming, and was gracious and funny throughout, with one exception: He spoke bitterly about the American Family Association, which protested the miniseries of his Tales books. “But their time is truly over, I believe,” he said, garnering applause from the audience.

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