With The Days of Anna Madrigal, Armistead Maupin brings his 12-character-based Tales of the City series, set in San Francisco, to a close after 40 years.
Tales of the City was conceived in 1976 and resulted in nine books. What kept drawing you back to these characters?
There’s great power and pleasure in being able to tell a continuing story for almost four decades. Readers connect the characters to moments in their own lives, landmarks in their own evolution; the books meld with their memories and form a sort of marriage between reader and writer.
You bore witness to the rise of gay culture in America, the AIDS crisis, and the defeat of DOMA. Are you surprised by the victories in the LGBT movement?
Well, that’s been my aim with Tales—to record these changes as I felt them. When I suggested, long ago, that gay and straight folks could form a family, it was regarded as an almost utopian concept. I wrote about lesbian mothers 30 years ago. One of my characters was the first AIDS fatality in fiction. I’m delighted, but not surprised, because the engine that drives this revolution is the basic human need for love and self-expression, and that can only be suppressed for so long.
The newspaper culture seems a shadow of its former self since you started writing the series for the San Francisco Chronicle.
I had a tremendous advantage in those pre-Internet days. The newspaper was the only reading matter that was freshened daily. You read it at the breakfast table and discussed it at the water cooler, so it became a kind of ritual, and the story expanded in the collective imagination. We have too many distractions now for that to work with the same intensity.
Days is a loving tribute to Anna, who is still a cherished character after nearly four decades. What is it about her that has inspired such fan loyalty?
Anna is a parental figure who doesn’t make the usual demands. All she wants is for her children to be happy, to be themselves. The male/female duality of her life has made her wise, kind, and deeply intuitive. And lots of people love Anna because they think of Olympia Dukakis in the PBS miniseries. She’s a dear friend of mine.
You left San Francisco last year to live in Santa Fe, N.Mex., with your husband. Are you enjoying it?
I find Santa Fe stimulating. We live in an adobe house at the end of a dirt road in the company of coyotes and ravens and the brightest stars I’ve ever seen. And the people, in their own way, are every bit as vivid as San Franciscans.
Days will be the final book in the Tales series. Was it difficult to write?
Yeah, it was kind of tough. You can’t wrap up the lives of 12 people without dropping a bomb on them, and I felt a tremendous responsibility toward Anna. Days dips into Anna’s past—her boyhood, in effect—so I could capture the full scope of her life. For the next book, I’ve been flirting with the notion of a free-form memoir, but I don’t know for sure. There are nights here when the coyotes make me want to write something really spooky.