Behind the Published Research Novel: A Talk with Professor Craig Loftin

By: Ella Deshautreaux, Clara Meade, Caleb Feliciano, and Justin Wolf

Published research on LGBT history in America is limited in comparison to other research subjects in U.S. history. Cal State Fullerton professor, research scholar, and author, Craig Loftin, brought both an academic and captivating voice to LGBT U.S. history through his 2012 published book “Masked Voices: Gay Men and Lesbians in Cold War America”. In Craig Loftin’s book “Masked Voices: Gay Men and Lesbians in Cold War America”, the letter archives deriving from “ONE Magazine” expose the honest and vulnerable voices of gay and lesbian people during the 1950s and 1960s in America. 

Read More: Behind the Published Research Novel: A Talk with Professor Craig Loftin

The novel uses the direct letters sent to ONE Magazine as primary sources of research with scholar Craig Loftins extended interpretation, historical background information, and structured division among categorized topics. Craig Loftin began his research for his book, “Masked Voices: Gay Men and Lesbians in Cold War America” while undergoing his Ph.D. program in American Studies at the University of Southern California. Among uncovering the archived letters written and sent to ONE Magazine, Craig Loftin used the letters as primary research for his study. Professor Loftin shares with us how he began his research process, and his research steps including his use of coding keywords to divide his topics, and utilizing the letters as primary sources of research.

Craig Loftin’s novel “Masked Voices: Gay Men and Lesbians in Cold War America” has been awarded the “Over the Rainbow Project book List” by the American Library Association and is used as a second source of research and enjoyable read of history including in multiple University libraries for readers everywhere. Craig Loftin’s research and publication have brought life to the historical archives of the letters sent to One Magazine. It is our honor to present further information on scholar Craig Loftin’s research.

Loftin initially had the monumental task of writing and researching one of the most sensitive topics and making it not only appealing to read but extracting meaning for his research. He had these letters from the 50s, and the 60s, from all sorts of different gay men with different views on being gay in society. Loftin takes these first-hand accounts of gay life and tries to make sense of what being gay in that time was as respectfully as possible. He needs to omit names not because he is a kind man, which he is, but for the privacy of those that he was using. The authors of these letters could be deceased or alive but it was still not Loftin’s place to out them or potentially alter their legacy. It is imperative to respect those in research and Loftin had such a keen understanding of that. Loftin conducted his research respectfully and wrote a book about it while maintaining the anonymity of those he was referring to. Before any research can be done, especially on this topic, respect and ethics must be upheld which is what Craig Loftin did.

When beginning his proper research after reading the letters, Loftin began to consider the most simple ways that he should go about compiling the information and presenting it in an accurate way. One of the things that he did that proved to be most successful was reading the letter in their entirety, multiple times, and coding while he was doing it. So with this in mind, he set out to do his research. It took him almost a year before he felt as though he thoroughly understood the messages and stories that of which the letters were trying to tell. Obviously, there was a lot of information to process, enough that he had hundreds of pages worth of notes by the end of his research. One problem that Loftin faced was whether or not he would allow his agenda to seep into his research, but he took extra care to make sure that would not happen. It was important to “let the letters tell the story and speak for themselves.”

Eventually, chapters began to develop around the topic that different letters were commonly found across the thousands of letters that were archived. To compile everything together Loftin began to code the research, in which he set keywords throughout the letters. For example, he would set keywords to “family” or “love” to track his research and accurately compile the information he needed to begin his research. Loftin’s use of coding and his care to accurately portray the thoughts and emotions of the letters that he was writing about made for a very good start to his research on primary sources.

In researching further into Loftin’s content analysis research, his coding method in categorizing the letters must be fully understood. In order to make the book easily digestible, he decided that he should divide the letters into chapters separated by key phrases. To know which key phrases he should use, he filled out several hundred pages of single-space notes of potential subjects. This process took quite a long time, as he spent years just reading the letters and writing down notes, and writing down simple words for each passage he deemed significant. From there, he found patterns of repeated words, such as family life, jail, or specific cities, and pasted sections of letters that contained these topics into their own chapters. In using the keywords, Loftin found he was able to keep his research flexible; meaning he was able to unexpectedly create more specific chapters within these sections that he would not have noticed. For example, through dividing the letters, he realized that many gay men found fear in the effeminate, or stereotypical, gay men because they were scared that being associated with them would expose their sexuality to the public.

Even with coding the letters into chapters, he still had to do secondary research into finding more information, like finding more information about gay men in jail in the incarcerated chapter. In dividing the letters into key phrases, he was able to create a content analysis research method that not only made it easier for the reader to digest all the material in the letters but also for Loftin to create the book on a subject he is highly knowledgeable about and very passionate about. Overall, this is a wonderful example of how combining an interest in a subject and a thorough research process together can create a book that other readers can enjoy learning from.

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