If he could just avoid having sex forever, thought the teenage Armistead Maupin. Then he could avoid admitting to himself — and confessing to his family — what he really was.
Maybe he could become paralyzed from the waist down?
“A car wreck, perhaps, if it wasn’t a really bad one.” Such were his fevered imaginings, he writes in his newest book, “Logical Family: A Memoir.” He adds: “Polio might work too.”
“How could I have guessed then,” he writes, “that the thing I feared most in myself would one day be the source of my greatest joy, the inspiration for my life’s work.”
Maupin, author of the fabulously sudsy San Francisco soap opera “Tales of
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the City,” will discuss that life’s work Saturday and Sunday at the AJC Decatur Book Festival.
It will be his first trip to the festival, and it brings him to a state that went cuckoo when his “Tales of the City” series of novels were turned into a PBS series in the 1990s.
“My memory of Georgia is that it was a place where the Legislature went into a huge controversy over ‘Tales of The City’ when it appeared on PBS,” he said, in a recent conversation from his San Francisco home. “They threatened to withhold all funding from Georgia PBS. … It was comical, to most people, when all they were upset about was a few guys kissing and maybe a few joints being rolled.”
How things have changed. Maupin’s “Tales,” which first appeared in serial form in the Pacific Sun and the San Francisco Chronicle in the mid-1970s, have found an audience here, and everywhere. They’ve been turned into a series of novels, then into the aforementioned television miniseries, a musical comedy and a Netflix series that will debut next year.
In Atlanta, Maupin enthusiasts can learn even more about the actual man behind the thinly disguised autobiography in “The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin,” a documentary that will be screened Saturday, Sept. 1, at the Decatur Public Library.
That event is sponsored by the AJC Decatur Book Festival, the Out on Film festival and Georgia Public Broadcasting, as part of the “Great American Read” initiative. Maupin will also hold a reading on Sunday, Sept. 2, at the book festival’s big tent, in the First Baptist Decatur sanctuary.
The staying power of Maupin’s stories demonstrates how skillfully he tapped into the drama of the times, not to mention the drama of his own life.
He arrived in San Francisco in 1971 a Vietnam veteran, a conservative son of the Old South (he grew up in Raleigh, N.C.) with a photo of himself and Richard Nixon gripping and grinning that he proudly displayed in his furnished room on Sacramento Street.
“I landed in the midst of a revolution,” said Maupin. “I arrived fresh from the White House after shilling for the president. It speaks to San Francisco values that they didn’t completely condemn me on the spot. They were patient with me. They thought I was a nice guy. I wasn’t.”
Sex, he says, opened his eyes. “I had been a virgin until I was 25, and that’s no good for anybody. Once I got to a place where I was free to be myself and express myself sexually and feel the simple human pleasure of lying with another person in bed, touching another person, once that happened, the clouds cleared and the sunshine shined through.”
He realized that he and his community were under assault by the conservative politicians that he once abetted, led by fundamentalist rabble-rousers such as Anita Bryant, the one-time beauty queen. “When Anita Bryant came along, I was in a position to write about my own life and my own rights and I was surrounded by thousands of supportive brothers and sisters.”
Maupin also became one of the earliest writers to draw attention to the AIDS crisis. He did this through his serialized stories, but also, controversially, through his friendship with Rock Hudson. The matinee idol, who had been closeted throughout his life, was diagnosed with AIDS in 1985. America couldn’t understand how this could happen to Doris Day’s sweetheart.
Maupin confirmed to San Francisco Chronicle reporter Randy Shilts that, indeed, Hudson was gay, and that he was tragically the most famous victim of a disease that was decimating the gay community, while the Reagan White House ignored the destruction.
The backlash against this “outing” was severe. “Some people were unhappy with me,” Maupin understates in his memoir.
Today, he said, “I’m not conflicted about it at all, especially 30 years later, when (Hudson) is celebrated as a hero for having come out. It changed the course of the AIDS epidemic. He was the first bona fide American hero to be recognized as a gay man with AIDS and it utterly changed the way the media covered the crisis.”
Things have changed. Gay marriage is now legal. San Francisco is overrun by the tech industry. And these changes will be reflected in the new “Tales of the City” Netflix series, which revisits the characters from the 1993 PBS series two decades later, and even brings back some of the original actors, including Laura Linney and Olympia Dukakis.
“It’s beyond thrilling,” said Maupin of the new version. “I can’t tell you what goose bumps it gave me to go on that soundstage to see that three-story 28 Barbary Lane — an even more detailed version than it was before — and many of the cast members are coming back. And they all look so damn good, you can’t believe 25 years have passed.”
Armistead Maupin will answer questions the evening of Saturday, Sept. 1, following the screening of “The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin,” 7 p.m., at the Decatur Public Library, 215 Sycamore St, Decatur. Free; ticket required. He will then speak 1:15-2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 2, about “Logical Family,” his new memoir. First Baptist Decatur Sanctuary, 308 Clairmont Ave., Decatur.
AJC Decatur Book Festival: Aug. 31-Sept. 2. Free. Various venues. decaturbookfestival.com.
Keynote: Kenny Leon. 8 p.m. Aug. 31. Sold out. Schwartz Center at Emory University, 1700 N. Decatur Road, Atlanta.
Kidnote: Harry Potter celebration. 5 p.m. Aug. 31. Free but ticket required. Presser Hall at Agnes Scott College, 141 E. College Ave., Decatur.
Street Festival: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sept. 1, noon-6 p.m. Sept. 2, downtown Decatur.