Born in San Francisco, California, in 1916, Shirley Hardie Jackson is best known as a writer of short stories and novels that frighten as well as entertain their readers. Jackson is generally judged to be a skilled storyteller and a significant figure in American literature. Her wit, clear style, and narrative ability make her work enjoyably readable. At the same time, most critics believe that Jackson’s characters and themes lack the depth found in the work of a great writer.
Jackson had a comfortable early family life with her father, Leslie H. Jackson, president of a label and lithograph company; her mother, Geraldine Bugee, who came from a family of educated, prominent professionals; and her brother, K. Barry. As a young woman, Jackson believed in the supernatural. Early diary entries show that she was also beset by what would be a lifelong feeling of inferiority and a sense of being an outsider.
After two years at the University of Rochester, in New York, Jackson was dismissed and spent a year writing conscientiously every day. She then entered Syracuse University, where she met her future husband, fellow student and future literary critic Stanley Edgar Hyman, with whom she edited a controversial campus magazine, Spectre.
Jackson began her prolific short-story publishing in 1941 with “My Life with R. H. Macy,” a satirical account of a part-time job at Macy’s department store in New York City, followed by “After You, My Dear Alphonse,” which appeared in The New Yorker in 1943. The latter story concerns prejudice against blacks, which Jackson had protested during her years at Syracuse. When Hyman became a professor of English at Bennington...
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