Tuesday, December 14, 2004

shirley jackson

(ganked from the writer's almanac)

It's the birthday of novelist and short story writer Shirley Jackson, born in San Francisco (1919). She grew up shy and awkward in California and never got along with her glamorous mother. So she married a literature professor and moved as far away from California as she could, to a small town in Vermont, where she raised four children.

She was a very eccentric woman. For most of her life, she heard voices and music that no one else could hear, and she believed that she was psychic. She kept half a dozen cats in her house and she said they often leapt up on her shoulder and whispered poems in her ear. She read dozens of books about witchcraft, and claimed that she had once used a voodoo doll to break a man's leg.

The people in her town talked about her behind her back, calling her a communist and atheist and a witch. Neighbors said the house was full of monstrous dust balls, and the children always had dirty tangled hair. She felt as though everyone in town was watching her and judging her, and she began to dread running into people at the local grocery store.

One spring afternoon, she returned from her daily errands and sat down to write a short story about a village where one person is chosen by lottery to be stoned to death every year. And that was "The Lottery," the short story that would make her name. She finished it in two hours and sent it off to the New Yorker magazine. When it was published there in 1948, more than four hundred readers wrote to the magazine demanding to know what the story meant, or asking to cancel their subscriptions because they were so disturbed.

Jackson was always proud that the white supremacist government of South Africa had banned "The Lottery," because she felt that they, at least, understood the story.

Even though "The Lottery" made her famous, she still struggled to find time to write while raising four children. She once said, "Fifty percent of my life was spent washing and dressing the children, cooking, [cleaning] and mending." But she loved to inspire her children's imagination. One night, during a fierce thunderstorm, she took all the children out to the front porch and encouraged them to roar back at the thunder.

She eventually wrote two best-selling memoirs about the experience of parenting, Life Among the Savages (1953) and Raising Demons (1957). She also wrote horror novels such as The Haunting of Hill House (1959) and We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962).

Shirley Jackson said, "I tell myself stories all day long. I have managed to weave a fairy-tale of infinite complexity around the inanimate objects in my house... No one in my family is surprised to find me putting the waffle iron away on a different shelf because...it has quarreled with the toaster... It looks kind of crazy, of course. But it does take the edge off cold reality."

She also said, "[Writing is] a way of making daily life into a wonderfully unusual thing instead of a grind."


Nicole Pisut-Seals said...

I dig it coleen! I am ashamed to say I had never heard of Ms. Jackson. Thanks for the enlightenment:)Come visit cold-lanta soon we miss you!! xoxo!

super said...

my comments feature is finally working! amazing!
I wonder when I'll get to atlanta again...
no time in the near future, I fear...
between now and next july I have FOUR (count'em!) road trips to freakin texas, three of them work related, one for unschooling stuff. I can't believe it.
come visit new orleans!