Back Shirley Jackson, “Biography of a Story”

Shirley Jackson (1916–1965)
From Shirley Jackson: Novels & Stories

Olive Dunbar as Tess Hutchinson in the 1969 dramatization of “The Lottery,” directed by Larry Yust as part of Encyclopaedia Britannica’s “Short Story Showcase” series.

Yesterday, December 14, marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of Shirley Jackson.

“In my imagination,” Jackson wrote, “I dwelt lovingly upon the thought of the millions and millions of people who were going to be uplifted and enriched and delighted by the stories I wrote.” What she didn’t imagine, however, was receiving hundreds of angry and baffled letters (some of which might accurately be called “hate mail”) in response to a story she published in June 1948 in a magazine—especially a magazine such as The New Yorker. “This gloomy kind of story is what all you young people think about these days,” read one of the first of the several hundred letters she received in response to “The Lottery.” Why don’t you write something to cheer people up?” And that letter was from her own mother.

Jackson went on to write such best-selling classics as The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle, as well as the humorous family memoir Life Among the Savages. But, for better or for worse, it’s “The Lottery” that is forever connected to her name. During the last decade of her life Jackson often delivered a prepared talk about her sudden notoriety as a writer of fiction. In honor of her centennial, we present that speech, “Biography of a Story,” as our Story of the Week selection.

Read “Biography of a Story” by Shirley Jackson

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