Shirley Jackson

Shirley Jackson was an acclaimed American writer known for the short story 'The Lottery,' as well as longer works like 'We Have Always Lived in the Castle.'

Who Was Shirley Jackson?

Writer Shirley Jackson was born in 1916 in California. Among her early works was "The Lottery," the highly controversial and famous short story about a village that partakes in an annual death ritual. Jackson, who also wrote such novels as The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle, died of heart failure in 1965.

Early Years and Career

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. 

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

'The Lottery' 

Also 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 smalltown 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.

Later Works and Movie

Jackson also wrote novels like The Haunting of Hill House and 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. She was married to critic Stanley Edgar Hyman and the couple had four children. 

Jackson's life is depicted in the 2020 film Shirley, which stars Elisabeth Moss as Jackson.


Jackson died on August 8, 1965, from heart failure. Decades later, two of her children, Laurence Jackson Hyman and Sarah Hyman Dewitt, have become editors for a collection of her unpublished works, Let Me Tell You: New Stories, Essays, and Other Writings. The compilation, released in August 2015, helps to mark the 50th anniversary of Jackson's death.

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