Shirley Hardie Jackson (December 14, 1916 – August 8, 1965) was an American writer, known primarily for her works of horror and mystery. Over the duration of her writing career, which spanned over two decades, she composed six novels, two memoirs, and more than 200 short stories.
Born in San Francisco, California, Jackson attended Syracuse University in New York, where she became involved with the university's literary magazine and met her future husband Stanley Edgar Hyman. After they graduated, the couple moved to New York and began contributing to The New Yorker, Jackson as a fiction writer and Hyman as a contributor to "Talk of the Town".
The couple settled in North Bennington, Vermont, in 1945, after the birth of their first child, when Hyman joined the faculty of Bennington College.
After publishing her debut novel The Road Through the Wall (1948), a semi-autobiographical account of her childhood in California, Jackson gained significant public attention for her short story "The Lottery", which presents the sinister underside of a bucolic American village. She continued to publish numerous short stories in literary journals and magazines throughout the 1950s, some of which were assembled and reissued in her 1953 memoir Life Among the Savages. In 1959, she published The Haunting of Hill House, a supernatural horror novel widely considered to be one of the best ghost stories ever written.
"The persona that Jackson presented to the world was powerful, witty, even imposing," wrote Zoë Heller in the New Yorker. "She could be sharp and aggressive with fey Bennington girls and salesclerks and people who interrupted her writing. Her letters are filled with tartly funny observations. Describing the bewildered response of New Yorker readers to 'The Lottery,' she notes, 'The number of people who expected Mrs. Hutchinson to win a Bendix washing machine at the end would amaze you.'"
In an era when women were not encouraged to work outside the home, Jackson became the chief breadwinner, while also raising the couple's four children.
"She did work hard," her son Laurence said. "She was always writing, or thinking about writing, and she did all the shopping and cooking, too. The meals were always on time. But she also loved to laugh and tell jokes. She was very buoyant that way." For examples of her wit, he refers readers to her many humorous cartoons, one of which depicts a husband cautioning a wife not to carry heavy things during pregnancy, but not offering to help.
By the 1960s, Jackson's health began to deteriorate significantly, ultimately leading to her death due to a heart condition in 1965 at the age of 48. Jackson has been cited as an influence on a diverse set of authors, including Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Sarah Waters, Nigel Kneale, Claire Fuller, Joanne Harris, and Richard Matheson.