Biography of Shirley Jackson

Shirley Jackson was born in San Francisco in 1916 to Leslie and Geraldine Jackson, a middle-class couple. When she was a teenager, her family moved to Rochester, New York, where Jackson graduated from Brighton High School in 1934. She attended the University of Rochester briefly, but then dropped out and ultimately received her bachelor's degree from Syracuse University. At Syracuse University, Jackson worked on the school newspaper, The Spectre, during which she met her future husband, Stanley Edgar Hyman.

After graduation, Jackson married Hyman and they moved to a rural area in Vermont, where they had four children. Jackson's novel Life Among the Savages (1953) is a humorous account of her experiences as a mother and wife. Jackson's other memoir is Raising Demons (1957). Some of her other works are semi-autobiographical, such as "My Life with R. H. Macy."

The story that launched Jackson into the public eye was "The Lottery," published in 1948 in The New Yorker. This story elicited much controversy among readers. During an interview after the publication of "The Lottery," Jackson jokingly described herself as a practicing witch. This description of the housewife-turned-witch caught the attention of many readers. Jackson soon came to realize that this reputation was a hindrance to her career.

Though Jackson was a devoted wife and mother, she was as equally focused on her career. She was extremely prolific during the 1950s in particular. Her output is impressive, and though she may not be as critically acclaimed today as other American authors of the twentieth century, Jackson undoubtedly enjoyed a highly successful career. In 1962, she received the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Allen Poe Award. Her health was poor throughout her life; she suffered from extreme weight gain and was a heavy smoker and drinker. She died at the age of 47 from heart failure. At the time of her death, she was working on a novel entitled Come Along with Me.

Jackson’s works have influenced such authors as Richard Matheson and Stephen King. Her works range from fairly conventional short stories, often geared toward women's magazines, to more unexpectedly sinister works, which have earned her a reputation as a gothic horror writer. Many of her works, in particular "The Lottery" and The Haunting of Hill House (1959), have been adapted to other forms including television series and films. Jackson’s writings also include the following: The Road Through the Wall (1948), Hangsaman (1951), The Bird's Nest (1954), The Sundial (1958), and We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962), for which she was highly acclaimed.

Study Guides on Works by Shirley Jackson