Shirley Jackson

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At a Glance

Shirley Jackson's name brings to most people's minds two words: “The Lottery.” This darkly ironic story has been sparking controversy since it was first published in The New Yorker in 1948, when hundreds of people wrote letters in response. Many were openly confused by the story, and some were downright abusive; Jackson has said that only about a dozen of the letters struck a positive note. Though “The Lottery” is striking, its success was a mixed blessing for Jackson. The sheer amount of attention given to that one story often overshadows the extensive body of work she produced, just as her work’s dark tone sometimes causes readers to overlook her literary merit. 

Facts and Trivia

  • Jackson attended the University of Rochester but didn’t graduate. She dropped out due to depression and grappled with mental health issues, including psychosomatic illnesses, her entire life.
  • Jackson was married to Stanley Edgar Hyman, a literary critic who taught at Bennington College in Vermont. They had four children. Jackson’s stories about her experiences raising her children are collected in Life Among the Savages and Raising Demons.
  • Many of Jackson’s works transformed her experiences into fiction, often taking a humorous or ironic approach to what she herself had been through. Her first published story, “My Life With R. H. Macy,” is a good example of this; it makes light of her time working in a department store.
  • South Africa banned “The Lottery.” When they did, Jackson said that it was a sign that they, at least, understood the story.
  • Her book The Haunting of Hill House was nominated for a National Book Award in 1960, a rare honor for a horror novel.

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Biography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

On December 14, 1916, Shirley Hardie Jackson was born to an affluent family in San Francisco. As soon as she learned to write, she began to pen poems, eventually winning a poetry contest at age twelve. In 1933, her family moved east to Rochester, New York, where Shirley went to high school and then on to the University of Rochester. She withdrew after two years, in part because of the tendency to depression which would haunt her for the rest of her life. During this hiatus from college, she developed a discipline of writing at least one thousand words every day.

In 1937, she enrolled in Syracuse University. She initially majored in journalism but then switched to an English major with a minor in speech. She published numerous pieces in school magazines over the following two years. A vehicle for her unconventional outlook was developed when she and two classmates started the literary campus magazine The Spectre. One of these classmates was Stanley Edgar Hyman, who would eventually become her husband.

Jackson and Hyman married after graduation in 1940, and moved to New York City, where Hyman got a job with The New Republic. Jackson worked at Macy’s department store for a short time. This experience formed the basis of her first nationally published short story “My Life with R. H. Macy.” Between...

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