Powerful Ladies of the 80's: Shirley Jackson

12th September 2017

Shirley Jackson


Shirley Jackson was a popular American novelist and short story writer of the twentieth century, known for her forte in mystery and horror fiction. Supernatural, sinister and mysterious elements played the significant role in her works. Her notable works include the short story The Lottery and the novel The Haunting of Hill House.


Shirley Jackson was born on December 14, 1916, in San Francisco, California, and grew up nearby in Burlingame. She attended the University of Rochester and then Syracuse University, where she became fiction editor of the campus humor magazine. There she also met her future husband, aspiring literary critic Stanley Edgar Hyman, and together they founded a literary magazine, Spectre, with Hyman as editor. They got married and the couple had four children.


After graduating in 1940, Jackson moved to New York City. She began to write professionally, her works appearing in such publications as The New Yorker, Redbook, The Saturday Evening Post and The Ladies' Home Journal. Her first novel, The Road through the Wall, was published in 1948.


The New Yorker published Jackson's short story, "The Lottery." The tale, which starts as a seemingly benign account of an annual event in small town America, takes a dark turn when the event is revealed to be a gruesome sacrifice. "The Lottery" generated the most mail in the history of The New Yorker, with many readers expressing confusion about underlying meanings and anger over its disturbing ending. Despite the backlash, "The Lottery" became one of the most significant short stories of its era. It was eventually translated into dozens of languages and adapted for radio, television and the stage.


In 1959 came The Haunting of Hill House, her best-known novel, which has come to be generally regarded as the “quintessential haunted house tale.”   That novel has twice been adapted for feature films.   In 1961 Jackson received the Edgar Allan Poe Award for “Louisa, Please,” one of the few such awards she ever received during her lifetime.   The following year her best-selling novel We Have Always Lived in the Castle was included in the year’s “Ten Best Novels” by Time Magazine. 


She also wrote We Have Always Lived in the Castle as well as the witty, embellished memoir Life Among the Savages, about her domestic experiences. Often relying on supernatural themes, she was known for tackling provocative, chilling subject matter that was culturally incisive and held metaphors for how people dealt with differences.


In 1965, August 9, she was found dead in at the age of 48. Mysteriously, her son, Laurence found her dozen of unpublished stories in a box left on his porch without any sign of who left it. He then with one of his sisters decided to co-edit a book in 1996, “Just an Ordinary Day,” containing thirty-two new Shirley Jackson stories along with twenty-two uncollected ones.


Shirley's creative comment on society's lack of acceptance proves that you don't have to directly voice your opinions to be heard, nor should you sit quietly. You can support others in many ways.