Author Armistead Maupin's beloved Tales of the City novel series began as a serialized fiction in the San Francisco Chronicle that introduced readers to the interwoven lives of characters coming of age in San Francisco. The stories became a series of nine novels that have long been recognized as seminal works chronicling the LGBT fight for human rights, as well as a multi-decade love letter to the city itself. Tales of the City has been previously adapted into film by PBS and Showtime, and a Netflix reboot is currently underway for which Maupin serves as executive producer. Maupin's memoir, Logical Family, tells the author's own journey growing up in the conservative South, serving in the Navy in Vietnam and landing in San Francisco where he became a leading voice for gay rights. Jennifer Kroot's documentary, The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin, highlights the impact of his work and the struggles and triumphs of the community he's championed. Maupin appears at the Center for Contemporary Arts this Friday (6:30 pm. $20. 1050 Old Pecos Trail, 982-1338) for a screening and signing.
You talk in the documentary about how coming out opened you up to the world and made you a writer. Can you expand on that connection?
I said it pretty early on in the documentary—in that old interview in my late 20s—that until you open up your heart and look at your own feelings, you're not really able to write about other people. When I was in Vietnam, I remember talking to some of the men about the women back home that they missed, their wives and girlfriends, and I could sympathize with the loss, but I didn't really know what it felt like to love someone that deeply and miss them. That didn't happen until I came out and could celebrate the loves of my life. I think it makes you a better writer.
At the beginning of the documentary, writer Neil Gaiman characterizes Tales of the City as a Trojan horse for advocating for gay rights, for human rights. I thought the film was sort of a Trojan horse as well—a documentary about you that was actually a call for truth and honesty. Do you feel that way about the work?
I was completely aware that I was sneaking things in under the eyes of a daily newspaper and I was using the charm of those characters to make people understand how they lived. The shortest answer is I have always known what I was doing and I have always been happy to do it. [Regarding the film], it's also a portrait of a whole generation of gay people, a portrait of a city at a certain time—it reaches much beyond me, that's why it's so popular.
As a leading activist, do you see a current frontier for human rights activism?
These kids, these smart teenagers that are infinitely smarter than the goofball running the country, who are standing up and speaking out and saying, this is not satisfactory, you will not do this—I am so proud of them.