Eric Cervini’s The Deviant’s War named Pulitzer Finalist





Eric Cervini, a former Gates scholar who earned his PhD in History at the Faculty in 2019, was named one of three Finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in History for 2021. He received the honour, one of the most prestigious for books on the history of the United States, for The Deviant’s War: The Homosexual vs. the United States of America (Farrar Strauss, 2020).

The Deviant’s War focuses on Frank Kameny, a rising astronomer working for the U.S. Defense Department in Hawaii, who received a summons in 1957 to report immediately to Washington, D.C. The Pentagon had reason to believe he was a homosexual, and after a series of humiliating interviews, Kameny, like countless gay men and women before him, was promptly dismissed from his government job. Unlike many others, though, Kameny fought back.

Based on firsthand accounts, recently declassified FBI records, and forty thousand personal documents, The Deviant's War unfolds over the course of the 1960s, as the Mattachine Society of Washington, the group Kameny founded, became the first organization to protest the systematic persecution of gay federal employees. It traces the forgotten ties that bound gay rights to the Black Freedom Movement, the New Left, lesbian activism, and trans resistance. Above all, it is a story of America (and Washington) at a cultural and sexual crossroads; of shocking, byzantine public battles with Congress; of FBI informants; murder; betrayal; sex; love; and ultimately victory.

The Pulitzer Board called the Deviant’s War a ‘painstakingly researched and engagingly written study of the pre-Stonewall fight for gay rights in America, told through the life and unprecedented legal efforts of astronomer Franklin Edward Kameny.’

The other finalists were Megan Kate Nelson’s The Three-Cornered War: The Union, the Confederacy, and Native Peoples in the Fight for the West (Scribner) and Marcia Chatelain’s Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America (Liveright/Norton), which received the prize.