Shirley Jackson

Few writers are as enigmatic and paradoxical as the combination housewife and horror writer Shirley Jackson. Throughout the late 1940s and into the 1960s, she became the “Mother of Horror” through her dark fiction creations. Her novel, The Haunting of Hill House was highly acclaimed for its mixture of suspense and psychological horror, and her story The Lottery is still one of the most read short stories in the world.

Born on December 14, 1916, Shirley Jackson spent much of her youth writing stories and poetry. When she was 17, her family moved from the West Coast, and she began attending the University of Rochester. She made writing a daily habit, producing more than 1000 words each day. It was through this consistent writing effort that her skills in creating stories that included both the macabre and the mundane began to form.

Her first story, Janice was published during her first year at Syracuse University in 1937. After winning a prestigious poetry contest, she quickly became a recognized literary talent at the college, and was named the editor of a campus magazine. She met her husband, Stanley Edgar Hymen, who was a burgeoning literary critic and they both graduated in 1940. During their stint in New York’s Greenwich Village, Jackson continued to write every day, producing a number of stories published in The New Republic and The New Yorker. One of these, Come Dance With Me In Ireland received recognition by being included in the anthology Best American Short Stories of 1944.

Over the next 5 years, Jackson and her growing family moved from Vermont to Connecticut. The onlly constant was her daily writing. She completed and published her novel The Road Through the Wall in 1948, as well as her iconic story, The Lottery. The Lottery’s story about a small town that engages in ceremonial sacrifice brought immediate acclaim to her writing. It also acted as a launching point for her next book, The Lottery, or The Adventures of James Harris, a collection of short stories which was published the next year.

During the 1950s, Jackson’s family moved back to North Bennington, Vermont as she continued to produce gothic-inspired suspense and horror. She created a series of novels, beginning with Hangsaman that featured both the painful elements of the everyday with the supernatural terror of the unknown. She then continued writing both fiction and nonfiction, as well as having several of her stories made into plays and movies. The Haunting of Hill House, written in 1959, is still considered a classic today.

Towards the end of the 50s, she also wrote 2 humorous non-fiction books regarding motherhood based on her own experiences. Both Raising Demons and The Sundial gave her fans a unique insight into a very multidimensional writer. It became clear that, although she had an excellent flair for horror, she was just as capable of writing witty, insightful humor.

Shirley Jackson continued to write prolifically until her unexpected death in 1965. By that time she had won numerous awards such as the posthumous Edgar Award in 1966 for her story The Possibility of Evil. In an attempt to continue her legacy, her family continued to publish unfinished and unpublished works after her death in the compilation Just An Ordinary Day. Her estate continues to show support for unique writers in the horror and supernatural genre by providing the Shirley Jackson Award each year to exceptional writers in this field. Winners have included notable writers like Neil Gaiman, Peter Straub and Stephen King.

Additional Resources

More information about Shirley Jackson’s life and work can be found at her Shirley Jackson Awards website. Here you can find out more information about Jackson’s style and the continuing effort of her estate to provide support for writing that exhibits the dark flair that Jackson was well-known for.

North Bennington,Vermont has a page dedicated to Shirley Jackson’s work and relationship to the town that she lived in. This resource also includes an audio reading of her most famous story, The Lottery as well as links to articles and critical analysis of her work by other notable authors.

An obituary for Jackson printed in http://www.nytimes.com/learning/general/onthisday/bday/1214.html”>The New York Times gives greater insight into her roles as writer, mother and citizen. It also incorporates earlier interviews with Jackson in addition to posthumous quotes from family and friends.

A number of her stories can be found in full-text versions online including We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Charles and Louisa, Please Come Home.

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