Shirley Jackson Biography

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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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 530

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.

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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 1942 and 1951, Jackson published almost twenty stories and two novels, gave birth to four children, and moved twice. Her famous story “The Lottery” was published in The New Yorker on June 26, 1948. The Hymans finally settled in Bennington, Vermont, which would be Jackson’s last home.

With four young children and a household to run, Jackson still wrote at a furious pace. During the 1950’s, she wrote four novels, more than forty short stories, a children’s book, two family chronicles about life in the Hyman household, and several articles. The family chronicles, Life Among the Savages (1953) and Raising Demons (1957), were humorous accounts, most of which were originally published as short stories in women’s magazines. Although not held in as high esteem as Jackson’s other works (in fact, her husband referred to them as “potboilers”), they brought in money and delighted her audiences, who could relate to the good-natured chaos of motherhood.

In 1959, Jackson’s most popular novel was published: The Haunting of Hill House. The book received high praise, went through several printings, and was made into a successful film four years later. By the early 1960’s, Jackson’s health had begun to seriously decline. She had gained an enormous amount of weight over the years, smoked two to three packs of cigarettes a day, and had entered a deep depression that only writing seemed to ameliorate. Her short story “Louisa, Please” won the Edgar Allan Poe Award in 1961. The next year, she completed We Have Always Lived in the Castle, a novel that became a best seller.

She was working on a humorous novel about the supernatural titled Come Along with Me in 1965. That year, she was also named recipient of Syracuse University’s Arents Pioneer Medal for Outstanding Achievement. She was, however, too ill to attend the ceremony. On August 8, Jackson died in her bed of heart failure.


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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 274

Shirley Jackson was born in San Francisco on December 14, 1919. She later moved with her family to Rochester, New York, and eventually attended the University of Rochester. After two years in college, she dropped out to devote herself to writing (although some say she was asked to leave), training herself to produce at least one thousand words a day. In 1937, after several years of writing without any publications, she enrolled at Syracuse University, where she published her first short story, “Janice,” about a coed who committed suicide. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Syracuse University in 1940.

While at Syracuse, Jackson met her husband, Stanley Edgar Hyman, who was the editor of the school’s literary magazine. They married in 1940 and eventually had four children. In 1948 Jackson published “The Lottery” in The New Yorker, which instantly made her famous. As an adult, Jackson experienced periods of depression and anxiety, which sometimes became severe. By 1960 she was often afraid to go shopping alone or leave the house. Jackson died of a heart attack in 1965.

Over the course of her life, she wrote six novels, two autobiographies, three children’s books, essays on the craft of writing, and numerous short stories. Although now known as an accomplished minor figure, during her lifetime she received several literary honors. In 1960 Jackson was nominated for but did not receive the National Book Award for The Haunting of Hill House. In 1962 she was noted by Time magazine for writing one of the “Ten Best Novels” (also for The Haunting of Hill House). In 1966 she won the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award for her short story “The Possibilities of Evil.”

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