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Shirley Jackson and “The Lottery”

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The following piece was written by John Sayers, a public affairs specialist in the Library’s Office of Communications. It originally appeared in the Library of Congress Magazine’s Summer Reading Issue.

“The Lottery” galley proof, The New Yorker, 1948. Shirley Jackson Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

When The New Yorker magazine published in June of 1948 an allegorical tale of small-town American life with a horrific twist, neither the publication nor its author had any idea of the uproar it would cause. Now considered one of the great short stories of the 20th century, “The Lottery” caused an immediate outcry, torrents of hate mail and instant notoriety for Shirley Jackson (1916–1965).

Jackson wrote short stories frequently focused on witchcraft, the occult and abnormal psychology. Her papers—as well as those of her husband, literary critic Stanley Edgar Hyman—can be found in the Library’s Manuscript Division. They contain diaries, letters and files on the vaguely autobiographical works Life Among the Savages (1953) and Raising Demons (1957), in which Jackson presents a comic—albeit strange—account of raising children, cleaning house and cooking meals in a disordered suburban environment.

Letters in the collection from her trusted friends and associates suggest the deep personal regard they held for Jackson as both a professional writer—whose stories were increasingly gaining critical acclaim and popular recognition—and as a wife and mother who successfully balanced her artistic and family roles.

Learn more about Shirley Jackson’s papers in the Library’s collection here. For Stanley Edgar Hyman’s papers, click here. Download and read the Summer Reading Issue of LCM, which includes a full-text reprint of “The Lottery,” here.

Comments (2)

  1. I wonder if persons who were aghast or horrified by “The Lottery” found W.B. Yeats’s “The Second Coming” indigestible?

  2. If nothing else, Shirley Jackson’s short story -The Lottery – is the most memorable short story imaginable.
    Perhaps the initial criticisms arose from some deep-rooted fear of the possibility of such a lottery actually happening. The human condition has often shown ways in which bigotry and hatred take over and control even the most rational of minds so it doesn’t take much of a leap to see the correlation.

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