HomeArmistead Maupin’s “Tales of the City”: Tales of a Transmedia Experience?

HomeArmistead Maupin’s “Tales of the City”: Tales of a Transmedia Experience?

Armistead Maupin’s “Tales of the City”: Tales of a Transmedia Experience?

« Tales of the City » d’Armistead Maupin : chroniques d’une expérience transmédia ?

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Published on Tuesday, November 15, 2022


Colloque interdisciplinaire sur l'oeuvre d'Armistead Maupin et ses adaptations.


Université Sorbonne Nouvelle, EA CREW & EA PRISMES


Could one go so far as to call Armistead Maupin the ‘queer Emile Zola’ of the 20th Century? Could Tales of the City itself, along with its 46-year legacy of adaptations and influence—from daily newspaper columns to TV series to novels and stage musicals—be considered akin to the all-encompassing family chronicle that Les Rougon-Macquart seemed to represent for its time? If Maupin has already been compared to Trollope, Dickens and other Victorian authors for his opting to use a serial literary format (Warhol, 1999), this same feature would also strengthen a possible parallel to Zola, even more so as Tales of the City also traces a family history that is closely intertwined with the historical events of their time. As Maupin points out, the members of the ‘family’ he created may not be blood relations, but they are nevertheless a logical and clearly defined family unit based on love and other emotional ties. The chronicle of this close-knit community—one that brings together gay, lesbian, transgender and heterosexual individuals—has developed in lockstep with ongoing changes in America itself, making it a comedy of manners grounded in, and reflected by, its own time.

There are few works that bring together as many literary sub-genres as Tales of the City does, for Maupin’s work could be seen as part coming-of-age story, part fairytale, part picaresque adventure, part travel writing, part crime novel, and so on—all held together by a healthy dose of humor (Brousse, 1996). Even though Maupin’s work may not be considered ‘highbrow literature’ (Klein-Scholz, 2017), it is a landmark work of popular culture that also broke barriers through its reiterations over the years in different formats and through different media.

This transmedia chronicle began in 1976 with the original series of Maupin’s 800-word daily columns in The San Francisco Chronicle and continued in 1978 with the publication of his first novel adapted from those newspaper columns; this two-fold approach would be reinforced by the author with four more adapted novels published by 1987, along with a sixth novel in 1989 that was not directly inspired by his newspaper column. This first series of six novels (Tales of the City, More Tales of the City, Further Tales of the City, Babycakes, Significant Others, Sure of You) was then adapted in 1993 as an Anglo-American TV series (16 episodes over three seasons) for both Channel 4 in the U.K. and PBS in the U.S. Maupin would later launch a second era for the work, with three more novels (Michael Tolliver Lives, Mary Ann in Autumn, The Days of Anna Madrigal) that were published between 2007 and 2014. In 2011, the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco produced a stage adaptation based on the first three novels, and soon after that the BBC proposed a series of radio adaptations based on Maupin’s nine novels, from 2013 to 2017. The most recent reiteration of Maupin’s work is the 2019 Netflix limited series, based essentially on Mary Ann in Autumn. With the death—both in print and on screen—of the character Anna Madrigal, the transgender matriarch of this unconventional ‘family dynasty’, it seems that this transmedial adventure may have come to an end—even though Maupin might very well have another trick up his sleeve. In any case, it seems like the perfect time to take stock in this seemingly completed multimedia opus. 

The multifaceted nature of Maupin’s saga has allowed him to reach myriad reading and viewing audiences—readers of newspapers as well as those of novels, TV viewers, radio audiences and theatergoers of different generations, all either discovering or rediscovering Maupin’s fictional world. Just as the books have led audiences and creative teams to their adaptations, the adaptations have in turn sent audiences back to the novels. Together, this network of storytelling methods has served as a sort of guidebook for those looking to have a fuller understanding of the LGBTQIA+ community and culture, notably for heterosexual, liberal and even more conservative audiences (Kellerman, 2016). Maupin has long sought to demystify LGBTQIA+ representations, making them more relatable, less scandalous and less frightening to newcomers—even admittedly boring at times (Maupin, 1987). The inherent seriality of both the written and audiovisual formats allows for repeated access over time to the community represented, thereby chipping away at its supposed ‘otherness’ while showcasing a vast array of gender identities, challenging—often with a touch of irreverence and fantasy—heteronormative codes, and thereby pushing audiences to overcome their prejudices (Warhol, 1999). The author himself has insisted on the work’s inclusive nature (“I was covering everybody; it was gay and straight, young and old,” Maupin, 2011), and it is this openness that has greatly helped much of so-called “traditional” society to both get to know and to accept the LGBTQIA+ community. Taking things even further, Maupin even managed to include a frank conversation about AIDS, without mincing words, and thereby raise awareness both at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic and throughout the impact it has had since the 1980s, and allowing audiences a better understanding of the effects of the disease both on individuals and on society as a whole (Warhol, Klein-Scholz).

However, if the popularity and impact of this multiform opus seems undeniable, one may wonder why it has not more frequently been the subject of scholarly research. This conference aims to help bridge that gap and to fully understand the importance of the transmedial nature of Maupin’s opus. In addition to its varied appeal and tone (journalistic, literary, televisual, sociological, documentary and/or militant), there is also the matter of its mix of literary genres and influences, its serial form of storytelling, its varied adaptation formats and methods, the co-existence of such varied narrative forms, or the construction and development of shared characters and storylines across these myriad works. There is also the issue of the multiform work’s impact on successive generations of audiences, representations of minorities over time, the educational value of each contribution, the level of political engagement expressed in a given reiteration, Maupin’s own role as a perceived spokesperson for the LGBTQIA+ community, Tales of the City’s impact both on mainstream and on LGBTQIA+ culture, international differences in how the works have been received, or even the effect that fandom has had on the works longevity and continued adaptation. There are indeed vast areas of research to explore. 

Submission guidelines

Paper proposals for the conference (in English or in French) should be no longer than 300 words. Submissions should be accompanied with a short biography that includes a few key publications and should be sent to clementine.tholas@sorbonne-nouvelle.fr, dennis.tredy@sorbonne-nouvelle.fr, alietteventejoux@protonmail.com

by 24 March, 2023.

 Main organizers

  • Clémentine Tholas,
  • Dennis Tredy,
  • Aliette Ventéjoux

Scientific Committee

  • Charles Joseph (Le Mans Université),
  • Ronan Ludot Vlasak (Université Sorbonne Nouvelle),
  • Guillaume Marche (Université Paris-Est Créteil),
  • Sébastien Mignot (Université de Caen),
  • Karen Ritzenhoff (Central Connecticut State University),
  • Clémentine Tholas (Université Sorbonne Nouvelle),
  • Dennis Tredy (Université Sorbonne Nouvelle),
  • Aliette Ventéjoux (Université Jean Monnet)


Becker, Ron. Gay TV and Straight America. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2006.

Bram, Christopher, and La Rochère Cécile de. Anges batailleurs: les écrivains gay en Amérique, de Tennessee Williams à Armistead Maupin. Paris: Grasset, 2013. 

Brousse, Françoise. “Armistead Maupin, mémorialiste.” Revue française d’études américaines 68.1 (1996): 29–39.

Browning, Jimmy D. “Something to Remember Me By: Maupin’s Tales of the City Novels as Artifacts in Contemporary Gay Folk Culture.” New York folklore 19.1-2 (1993): 71–87.

Canaday, Margot, Straight State: Sexuality and Citizenship in Twentieth Century America, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009.

Caughie,John, Khun, Annette.  The Sexual Subject: a Screen Reader in Sexuality. London New York: Routledge, 1992.

Dyer, Richard. The Culture of Queers. New York: Routledge, 1993.

Gale, Patrick. Armistead Maupin. Bath, England: Absolute Press, 1999.

Kellerman, Robert. “Goodbye, Barbary Lane: The Passage of Time in the Recent Novels of Armistead Maupin.” Journal of American culture, 39.1 (2016): 41–54

Klein-Scholz, Christelle. “A Diachronic Analysis of the Language of AIDS in Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City.” ASp 71 (2017): 179–171.

Maupin, Armistead. “A Talk with Armistead Maupin”, with Tom Spain. Publishers Weekly 231.11 (1987): 53-54.

Maupin, Armistead. “This Week: Tales of the City”, KQED, May, 2011.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Ks-zvIiUO0&ab_channel=KQED (retrieved on October 20th, 2022)

Russo, Vito. The Celluloid Closet: Homosexuality in the Movies. New York: Harper and Row, 1987.

Warhol, Robyn R. “Making ‘Gay’ and ‘Lesbian’ into Household Words: How Serial Form Works in Armistead Maupin’s ‘Tales of the City.’” Contemporary literature 40.3 (1999): 378–402.



  • Maison de la Recherche, Salle Athéna, 4 rue des Irlandais
    Paris, France (75005)

Event attendance modalities

Hybrid event (on site and online)


  • Friday, March 24, 2023

Attached files


  • littérature, adaptation, série TV, LGBTQIA+


  • Clémentine Tholas
    courriel : clementine [dot] tholas [at] sorbonne-nouvelle [dot] fr

Information source

  • Clémentine Tholas
    courriel : clementine [dot] tholas [at] sorbonne-nouvelle [dot] fr


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« Armistead Maupin’s “Tales of the City”: Tales of a Transmedia Experience? », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Tuesday, November 15, 2022, https://calenda.org/1030684

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