December 14, 2011
Starting when she was a college girl, SHIRLEY JACKSON (1916-65) amassed a collection of books on witchcraft. She never claimed to practice witchcraft, but what better example of the supernatural than the seeming ease with which she wrote her most famous story? The idea for “The Lottery,” in which villagers gather in the town square to see who will be chosen for stoning, came to Jackson as she pushed her daughter’s stroller uphill, homeward bound after running errands. When she sat down later in the day to write the story, “it went quickly and easily, moving from beginning to end without pause,” she recounted. “The Lottery” was published by The New Yorker three weeks later, on June 28, 1948; it generated more mail than any other story that had appeared in the magazine’s pages. Jackson claimed that her domestic chores fired her writer’s mind; indeed, her compulsively readable work is divided between stories and novels of sinister bent, and chortle-out-loud funny essays depicting a chaotic midcentury home life with husband, four children, and a dog in a book-crammed New England house. Fanboy Jonathan Lethem describes “The Lottery” as a story that “everyone knows even if they don’t remember Shirley Jackson’s name,” thanks to the generations of high-school English teachers who have assigned it.
READ MORE about members of the New Gods generation (1914-23).