CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Iconic openly gay writer and North Carolina native Armistead Maupin will receive an honorary degree from his alma mater during commencement ceremonies this weekend.
Maupin, who grew up in Raleigh, attended the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, graduating in 1966. As a student, he wrote for the Daily Tar Heel and, after graduating, worked for Raleigh news station WRAL, where he worked under the tutelage of former TV commentator and later U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms.
“I really didn’t have a friendship with him, as such,” Maupin told qnotes during an interview in 2008. “He was more of a mentor who guided me in the late ’60s and early ’70s. There was no more communication with him after I came out.”
Maupin said his undergraduate writings were influenced by Helms before he started working with him.
“I took as my inspiration then the editorials and TV commentaries of Jesse Helms,” Maupin said, adding, “I don’t think it is possible for younger people to know just how terrorized we were by a society that didn’t recognize our existence. Movies and television and pop music were all completely mum on the subject. When homosexuals did appear on the screen, they were usually destined for suicide or the asylum.”
His youthful conservative streak was handed down to him by his parents.
“I was raised a conservative and still had a great deal of racist colorations in my thinking,” Maupin said. “My father once walked our entire family out of Christ Church in Raleigh when the minister began to deliver a sermon in favor of desegregation. I had a lot of unlearning to do. Being queer helped me in that process. I challenged my own assumptions about homosexuality and I had to look at everyone else’s oppression.”
Maupin later enlisted in the U.S. Navy and moved to Charleston, S.C. He later took a job with The Associated Press in San Francisco and, in 1976, began his legendary “Tales of the City” series at the San Francisco Chronicle.
The serials were later published as a series of novels. In 1994, “Tales of the City” was produced as a PBS miniseries, later winning a Peabody Award.
Maupin will receive an honorary Doctor of Letters at Chapel Hill’s commencement exercises on campus this weekend. Other honorary doctoral recipients will include former Gov. Beverly Perdue, women’s historian Anne Firor Scott, Amherst College President Biddy Martin and philanthropist Marjorie Bryan Buckley.