Shirley Jackson

Shirley Jackson

Shirley Jackson’s (December 14, 1916 – August 8, 1965) writing has made her one of America’s most influential authors. Two genres of writing, in particular, put her on the literary map:  imaginative tales of psychological horror, as well as prettied-up accounts of everyday family life. Her stories and novels, though undeniably competent and well written, have often disturbed readers with their insistence on exploring the dark side of human nature.

Jackson’s haunting short story, “The Lottery,” catapulted her to fame in 1948, and her output continued at a fast clip — six novels, four children’s books, and dozens of short stories — all throughout the years of raising her four children.

She famously used her children as inspiration — not always flattering — in her fiction and nonfiction. Life Among the Savages and Raising Demons were early “momoirs” that inspired the likes of Erma Bombeck, and were glossy versions of family life that wasn’t quite as fun as the pictures she painted in her pages.

On the writing life, Jackson said, “One of the most terrifying aspects of publishing stories and books is the realization that they are going to be read, and read by strangers. I had never fully realized this before, although I had of course in my imagination 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. It had simply never occurred to me that these the millions and millions of people might be so far from being uplifted that they would sit down and write me letters I was downright scared to open; of the three-hundred-odd letters that I received that summer I can count only thirteen that spoke kindly to me, and they were mostly from friends.” This is from a lecture that was printed in her collection Come Along with Me, 1968.

Jackson’s novel, We Have Always Lived in the Castle was made one of Time Magazine’s “Ten Best Novels” in 1961. She has consistently intrigued readers with her thrilling tales. Many of her works have been adapted to movie, theater and television.

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Shirley Jackson Quotes

“When shall we live if not now?” (The Sundial, 1958)

“In the country of the story the writer is king.” (Come Along with Me, 1968)

“I very much dislike writing about myself or my work, and when pressed for autobiographical material can only give a bare chronological outline which contains no pertinent facts.”

“Materializations are often best produced in rooms where there are books. I cannot think of any time when materialization was in any way hampered by the presence of books.” (The Haunting of Hill House, 1959)

“A pretty sight, a lady with a book.” (We Have Always Lived in a Castle, 1962)

“I have always loved to use fear, to take it and comprehend it and make it work and consolidate a situation where I was afraid and take it whole and work from there.”

“Certainly there are spots which inevitably attach to themselves an atmosphere of holiness and goodness; it might not then be too fanciful to say that some houses are born bad.” (The Haunting of Hill House, 1959)

“So long as you write it away regularly nothing can really hurt you.”

“I remember that I stood on the library steps holding my books and looking for a minute at the soft hinted green in the branches against the sky and wishing, as I always did, that I could walk home across the sky instead of through the village.” (We Have Always Lived in a Castle, 1962)

“My dear, how can I make you perceive that there is no danger where there is nothing but love and understanding?” (The Haunting of Hill House, 1959)

“Someone—I forget who—once referred to the easier sections of his work as “benches for the reader to sit down upon,” meaning, of course, that the poor reader who had struggled through the complex maze of ideas for several pages could rest gratefully at last on a simple clear paragraph. Provide your reader with such assistance.”

“Let my reader who is puzzled by my awkward explanations close his eyes for no more than two minutes, and see if he does not find himself suddenly not a compact human being at all, but only a consciousness on a sea of sound and touch …”

“In the country of the story the writer is king.”

“Explaining just what I had hoped the story to say is very difficult. I suppose, I hoped, by setting a particularly brutal ancient rite in the present and in my own village to shock the story’s readers with a graphic dramatization of the pointless violence and general inhumanity in their own lives.” (On her story The Lottery; San Francisco Chronicle, July 22, 1948)

“The essence of the story is motion.”

“I delight in what I fear.”

“It is much easier, I find, to write a story than to cope competently with the millions of daily trials and tribulations that turn up in an ordinary house, and it helps a good deal — particularly with children around — if you can see them through a flattering veil of fiction. It has always been a comfort to me to make stories out of things that happen, things like moving, and kittens, and Christmas concerts at the grade school, and broken bicycles …” (Come Along with Me, 1948)

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