When Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” was first published, in the June 26, 1948, issue, readers were unnerved and disconcerted. It was unlike any other work of short fiction they’d encountered. The tale, about an unusual ritual that takes place in an obscure American village, generated more mail than the magazine had ever received about a short story. One reader, from Connecticut, wrote that she could not decide whether the author was “a genius or a female and more subtle version of Orson Welles.” Harold Ross, in a letter sent that August to the New Yorker staff writer Stanley Edgar Hyman, Jackson’s husband, wrote that he wasn’t quite sure how to characterize the story, only that “it was a terrifically effective thing, and will become a classic in some category.”
Laurence Jackson Hyman, the writer’s son, has edited a new collection of Jackson’s letters, which he published this past week. Today, in honor of Jackson’s expansive body of work, we’re bringing you a selection of stories by and essays about the renowned author. In “The Man in the Woods,” a wanderer stumbles upon a house full of secrets. In “The Haunted Mind of Shirley Jackson,” Zoë Heller examines a biography of the tortured writer. In “ ‘The Lottery’ Letters,” Ruth Franklin recounts how Jackson’s short story has inspired and confounded readers over the years. Finally, in “Garlic in Fiction,” from a series of lectures that she gave decades ago, Jackson reconsiders the relationship between the scribe and the reader, and the significance of the literary tools at a writer’s disposal. “What I am calling images or symbols or garlic is actually a kind of shorthand, or evocative coloring, to a story,” she observes. “A story is, after all, made up only of words.”
From The New Yorker’s Archive
“The people had done it so many times that they only half listened to the directions; most of them were quiet, wetting their lips, not looking around.”
By Shirley Jackson | June 26, 1948
Garlic in Fiction
The short-story writer can catch at the reader and hold him with small things, used sparingly and with great care, to accent and emphasize.
By Shirley Jackson | August 3, 2015
The Haunted Mind of Shirley Jackson
A new biography explores one of the twentieth century’s most tortured writers.
By Zoë Heller | October 17, 2016
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“The Man in the Woods”
“Christopher had come into the forest at a crossroads, turning onto the forest road as though he had a choice, looking back once to see the other road, the one he had not chosen.”
By Shirley Jackson | April 28, 2014
“The Lottery” Letters
A torrent of mail arrived at The New Yorker in the wake of Shirley Jackson’s short story—the most the magazine had ever received in response to a work of fiction.