Nearly thirty-eight years ago, writer Armistead Maupin (at that point, a journalist for the Associated Press) began publishing a serial, set in San Francisco, chronicling the lives of a group of fictional LGBTQ characters in a small Marin County (outside San Francisco) newspaper called the Pacific Sun. A couple of years later, Maupin’s story got picked up by the San Francisco Chronicle and ran regularly for years afterwards.
The Chronicle features later became the Tales of the City series of novels (the first four in the series), the first published in 1978. Tales of the City book one is set in 1976 and is told in third person, focussing on many characters: Mary Ann Singleton, a straight single twenty-something who leaves middle America and goes San Francisco, initially on vacation, but decides to stay; Anna Madrigal, Mary Ann’s new landlady, an aging transsexual woman; and fellow tenants, Michael Tolliver (gay), Mona Ramsey (bi) and Brian Hawkins (straight).
All of their lives, and those from a large cast of secondary characters, intersect and evolve through the heady days of the 70s and the comparatively conservative 80s and 90s. The two most recent books, Michael Tolliver Lives (2007) and Mary Ann in Autumn (2010), told in first person, find both characters approaching their later years as life, to paraphrase folk singer Donovan, brings sorrow and joy to them. The whole series is a warm, funny, angry and melancholy journey with a group of characters that definitely grow on you.
And the latest, Maupin is currently writing another instalment in the series, The Days of Anna Madrigal, due out within the next couple of years.
Reading the series is like moving in with the characters … highly recommended!