When first published in the New Yorker, Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” resulted in reams of hate mail and canceled subscriptions; decades later, it is one of the most well-known of American short stories, taught to high school students across North America and beyond.
At the start of summer, the residents of a small US town gather for the annual celebrations and rituals to make a good harvest, the most important being the lottery – a tradition increasingly abandoned by neighbouring communities. In all likelihood you’ve read the story and know the ending; but on the off chance that is not the case, I’ll say no more here. Read it.
Jackson was popular in her time, but since has been recognized as a major literary force, and an important influence on contemporary authors such as Neil Gaiman and Stephen King. Her stories are dark, often gothic fantasies drawn from a world careening between the holocaust and the Cold War. She largely refused, though, to comment on or even promote her work, shunning interviewers and critics and refusing the frequent invitations to comment on literary or world affairs that came her way.
“The Lottery” is what we all know Shirley Jackson for; but it’s only the start of an incredible body of work including stories, novels, and children’s books. Read it again. And read more of her. It’s worth the time.