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Shirley Jackson on Not Getting It

Filed under: The Katharine Wheel: On Fiction   Tagged: , ,

The Poynter Institute’s blog on journalism published an interesting column by Roy Peter Clark last month on the hazards of satire. The column’s real topic had to do with the infamous Obama cover, but contained some fascinating material from Shirley Jackson on responses from New Yorker readers to her story, “The Lottery,” whose 60th anniversary of publication was just the other day.

From Clark’s column:

[Jackson’s] essay called “Biography of a Story” begins this way: “On the morning of June 28, 1948, I walked down to the post office in our little Vermont town to pick up the mail. … I opened the box, took out a couple of bills and a letter or two, talked to the postmaster for a few minutes, and left, never supposing that it was the last time for months that I was to pick up the mail without an active feeling of panic. … It was not my first published story, nor my last, but I have been assured over and over that if it had been the only story I ever wrote or published, there would be people who would not forget my name.”

The column goes on from there, and makes for hair-raising reading for anyone who has faith in the intelligence of the average reader. (But see Paul Morris’ vision of what her story would’ve looked like it if it had gone through rewrite today.)


I have read no fiction by Jackson other than “The Lottery,” but I have read that essay, and it made a tremendous impression on me.

I gotta look it up.

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