Remembering Shirley Jackson
One of my favorite authors is the late Shirley Jackson, author of the The Haunting of Hill House, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, and of course, the unforgettable short story, The Lottery. Although technically classified as a horror writer, Jackson had a genius not for creating blood guzzling monsters or glittery vampires, but for seeing the horror in everyday life. She explored what happened to people who were locked into convention, no matter how horrifying (The Lottery), and she looked at souls who were on the outside of the social norm, social and psychological outcasts (The Haunting of Hill House, We Have Always Lived in the Castle).
She did so in a cool, almost detached manner. Her short stories, in particular, took place among mostly ordinary people living regular lives, with just a hint of darkness creeping in at the borders, and she had a unique talent for uniting the hilarious with the ominous.
Born in San Francisco, California in December, 1916 , Jackson and her family moved to Rochester, New York where Shirley attended Brighton High School and received her diploma in 1934. She went on the the University of Rochester before relocating to Syracuse University where she wrote her first short story “Janice” and graduated in 1940.
It was at Syracuse she met her future husband literary critic Stanley Edgar Human. While on the surface Shirley Jackson lived a quiet life as a housewife married with four children in Bennington, Vermont, she was a heavy smoker who struggled with obesity and a variety of neuroses. She died in 1965 of heart failure.
Shirley Jackson has influenced writers from Neil Gaiman to Steven King, and as we remember the fiftieth anniversary of her death and prepare for the hundredth anniversary of her birth, it’s fitting to remember that she believed life “is a happy, irrational, rich world, full of fairies and ghosts and free electricity and dragons and a world beyond all others, fun to walk around in. All you have to do–and watch this carefully, please–is keep writing. As long as you write it away regularly, nothing can really hurt you.”
Wise words from a wonderful writer.