|Photo by Christopher Turner.
Best-Selling Author Gives Kicks Off National Queer Arts Festival with Free Reading
From the onset of the HIV/AIDS epidemic to the recent decision to legalize gay marriage in California, Armistead Maupin has watched the world change in the more than 30 years since his Tales of the City characters first gained national prominence.
The best-selling author, whose latest epic Michael Tolliver Lives hit paperback in mid-May, attributes much of society‚Äôs evolving consciousness to the work of openly-gay writers. Tuesday, June 3, Maupin joins author Michelle Tea at San Francisco‚Äôs Main Library for the Radar Reading Series, a free monthly showcase combining underground and superstar writers which this month also kicks off the National Queer Arts Festival.
In an interview completed the morning after California‚Äôs landmark decision to legalize gay marriage, the legendary San Francisco resident discusses the importance of programs like NQAF while weighing in on his most recent novel, an in-the-works Broadway musical based on Tales of the City and collaborating with The Scissor Sisters.
(Bay Times) What are your thoughts on California‚Äôs ruling to allow gay marriage?
(Maupin) Of course, I was excited as the next person. My husband Christopher and I went down to Castro Street for the big block party and ran into six or eight of our friends. We all stood around, talked and enjoyed the wonderful feeling in the air. It was just one of those nights you‚Äôre grateful to be a San Franciscan. I was very proud of our mayor, and Mark Leno and all the people who fought to make this happen. It was interesting to me that it was a record heat wave. It occurred to me that maybe this was San Francisco‚Äôs version of ‚Äúwhen hell freezes over.‚ÄĚ (Laughing.) When something miraculous has happened, it has to be marked by the weather.
Michael Tolliver Lives revisits your Tales of the City characters. Why delve back into those stories so many years later?
My initial instinct was to write a novel about a gay man who has survived the early invisibility of gay life, the launching of a revolution, the AIDS epidemic and response to it - someone who‚Äôs been through the whole mill and is still around and happy and celebratory about being gay‚Ä¶ or, more specifically, about being honest about being gay. It occurred to me that I had the perfect character through which I could examine that journey and that it would be kind of foolish to not make use of Michael Tolliver for the residual feelings people have for him and the long history people have shared with him. I let people know early on I didn‚Äôt consider this to be a strict ‚Äúsequel‚ÄĚ to Tales of the City, not because the story wasn‚Äôt being continued, but because I didn‚Äôt want them to be disappointed by the change in tone. This is the first first-person novel in the Tales of the City series. I temporarily deserted that multi-character tapestry that marked the first six books. The short answer to that is I simply wanted to celebrate my generation, and I felt Michael was the perfect person through which to do that.
Tell me more about the plans for a musical adaptation of Tales of the City.
The producers and creative team behind Avenue Q, the Broadway musical, are putting together a musical version of Tales of the City which will open on Broadway in the 2009-2010 season. Jake Shears and John Garden, two members of The Scissor Sisters, are writing the music. (Laughs) I‚Äôm extremely excited about it! It‚Äôs a remarkable team of people mostly under 35 who are putting this together. It‚Äôs a longtime dream of mine, to see this happen. Ever since I discovered Christopher Isherwood through Cabaret, I‚Äôve felt a Broadway musical is probably the highest compliment your work can be paid.
It seems an incredible challenge to match music and lyrics to work people know and love so dearly.
Well, it‚Äôs always a challenge, isn‚Äôt it? Broadway generally takes on stories which are known and loved deeply. That‚Äôs why you need talented people, people who understand the spirit of the work as opposed to just the literal interpretation of it. The great thing about The Scissor Sisters is the way their work combines elements of artists from the ‚Äė70s and ‚Äė80s, The Bee Gees, Elton John, and any number of musicians of that era. You can hear echoes of those in The Scissor Sisters, yet their music is also completely up-to-date. It‚Äôs quite clearly modern. It seems to me that is the perfect combination.
Describe to me your participation in the National Queer Arts Festival.
As I understand it, I‚Äôll read from my work and chat with the audience. That‚Äôs normally what I do. It‚Äôs something Michelle Tea asked me to participate in, and I‚Äôm a great fan of hers as both a person and a writer, so I signed on for the job.
In your mind, what makes events like the NQAF important?
Oh, God. I‚Äôm not good at making these speeches. While I can‚Äôt speak specifically to the National Queer Arts Festival, I think it‚Äôs basically writers who have led this cultural revolution. The emphasis these days is on out-of-the-closet actors, singers and reality TV stars, but in the early days, it was writers expressing and opening up their hearts in an extremely honest way which made the revolution come about. That‚Äôs where we had the turn. Long before television and movies addressed the subject, we had to find our truths in the written word. I think that remains to this day the most important way for us to change our lives is to testify to our own experience. That‚Äôs what something like the Queer Arts Festival is all about: people simply telling their stories, as honestly as possible, whatever they might be. In doing so, they open up to the world and people who have previously felt alone. I think there is still plenty of room for people to tell their stories and make the world a better place for all of us.
For more info visit: http://www.QueerCultural Center.org