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Shirley Jackson (December 14, 1916 – August 8, 1965) was an American author whose work was quite influential. 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.
Portrayals of family life for effect
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. Her marriage to Stanley Edgar Hyman, a literary critic and professor, was less than ideal. He was chronically unfaithful, controlling, and belittling.
The ups and downs of the writing life
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.
You might also like: Quotes by Shirley Jackson on Writing and Life
Accolades and adaptations
Jackson’s novel, We Have Always Lived in the Castle was made one of Time Magazine’s “Ten Best Novels” in 1961. She consistently intrigued readers with her thrilling tales. Many of her works have been adapted to movie, theater, and television.
As a master of literary creepiness, Jackson has been cited as a major influence on Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Joanne Harris, and others.Jackson was a heavy smoker, overweight, and, due to extreme anxiety, possibly addicted to unsafe prescription barbiturates. She was only 48 when she died of heart failure in her sleep in 1965.
More about Shirley Jackson on this site
- Shirley Jackson on Motherhood, Experience, and Fiction Writing
- Quotes by Shirley Jackson on Writing and Life
- The Haunting of Hill House
- The Lottery and Other Stories
- We Have Always Lived in the Castle
- The Witchcraft of Salem Village
- Just an Ordinary Day: Uncollected Stories
- Let Me Tell You: New Stories, Essays, and Other Writings
Autobiographies and Biographies
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