Author and journalist Armistead Maupin mined his own experiences living in San Francisco for “Tales in the City,” a series of nine best-selling novels chronicling the evolution of LGBT America from the 1970s to the present decade through the lives of the disparate residents of 28 Barbary Lane.
But after the 2014 publication of “The Days of Anna Madrigal,” the most recent in the series, Maupin decided it was time to write about a new, even more personal cast of characters – the family and friends, some of them famous, who have populated his wide-ranging life.
The writer – who will be in Watertown on Feb. 12 when the New Repertory Theatre presents “A Conversation with Armistead Maupin” at the Mosesian Center for the Arts – did just that in “Logical Family: A Memoir,” published by HarperCollins in October 2017.
“I was 73 and that seemed to be the right age to do something like this. Christopher Isherwood was a good friend of mine and he had great influence on me as a writer,” explained Maupin by telephone recently from his home in the East Bay area of San Francisco.
“I had recently read Christopher’s diaries and found them immensely interesting. So I thought perhaps it was time to tell my own story.”
Maupin – born in Washington, D.C., and raised in Raleigh, N.C. – hadn’t kept diaries over the years, though, so his long-established writing process came in handy.
“I’ve been anecdotalizing my life since childhood,” he says with a laugh. “So I wrote anecdotally. I got in touch with many different people, including my sister, to see how they remembered certain things.”
Among those assisting Maupin was his husband, photographer Christopher Turner. Together since 2004, the pair were married on February 18, 2007.
“My husband remembered some things differently, so in those cases, I went with his versions. He’s got a better memory than I do. That’s important, too, because you want to get everything right,” says the self-described “very happily married” Maupin.
“Chris and I walk down to the Castro every day. We enjoy our life together, whether we’re traveling, watching television at home, or relaxing with our labradoodle,” says Maupin. “I look forward to every moment I spend with this man.”
But his current happiness is only one part of a life story that provided rich source material for “Logical Family,” the title of which refers to a chosen family as opposed to a biological one.
Great-great-grandson of Confederate General Lawrence O’Bryan Branch and son of a prominent Raleigh attorney, Maupin spent much of his early life trying to stay in his father’s good graces by concealing his sexuality and embracing his family’s staunch conservatism.
“I did that because I was terrified by who I was,” he recalls. “Even now, I’m still ashamed of the degree to which I did not rebel when I was a young man.”
After graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Maupin worked at a Raleigh TV station then managed by future U.S. Senator Jesse Helms, a friend of the family and an arch-conservative, before joining the U.S. Navy and serving in the Vietnam War.
Having first become involved in journalism while attending UNC, Maupin went to work after his discharge for a Charleston newspaper, which led in 1971 to a job offer at the San Francisco bureau of the Associated Press.
Acknowledging what he says he had known since childhood, Maupin came out as gay in 1974. That same year, he began working on what would become the “Tales of the City” novels as a newspaper serial, first in the “Pacific Sun” and later in the “San Francisco Chronicle.”
“I’m still cross with myself for waiting so long to come out,” he says. “Once I finally did, however, I was ready to be out to the whole world. I wasn’t afraid either, because being out brought me into my true self.”
He has since helped others navigate similar journeys.
“It was 30 years ago that my friend Ian McKellen came out on a BBC radio program, while explaining his opposition to an amendment that prohibited the public school teaching of anything that supported homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle. I was very proud of Ian for that,” says Maupin of the British actor.
“I’ve always been hopeful that exposure – be it political or artistic – will help more people understand what this life is all about.”
His “Tales of the City,” published in 10 languages and the basis for a 1993 television mini-series of the same name as well as sequels in 1998 and 2001, have also helped.
And there will be more “Tales” told in an upcoming Netflix version of the series, on which Maupin is an executive producer.
“It will be a new story set in present-day San Francisco. Mrs. Madrigal is still alive at 90 and she’ll once again be played by Olympia Dukakis. Laura Linney will also be back as Mary Ann Singleton. There will be new characters, too, but the series will definitely have the spirit of the original.
“Every letter in LGBT was represented in the very first ‘Tales,’” according to the author. “And the early principles are still in place, ‘Ask questions. Don’t be afraid of straight people. And try to figure what it will take for everyone to understand and respect each other.’”
“A Conversation with Armistead Maupin”
WHEN: Feb. 12
WHERE: Mosesian Center for the Arts Mainstage Theater, 321 Arsenal Street, Watertown
TICKETS: Start at $50
INFO: 617-923-8487 or newrep.org