Writing is, by its nature, interior work. So being forced to be around people is a great gift for a novelist. You get to be reminded, daily, of how people think, how they speak, how they live; the things they worry about, the things they hope for, the things they fear.
I don't believe in post-racial or post-gay or post-anything, but I do think within a certain group of friends, what matters less is the specificities of race and sexuality, and what matters more is the shared experience, shared language and shared cultural touch points.
We think of the 1950s as an oppressive time in the culture, and indeed it was, but it was also in many ways a more secular moment, and one in which great scientific achievements flourished. I don't want to get too gauzy about this, but there was much more respect for science as a necessary part of society.