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A bewitchingly brilliant collection of never-before-published letters from the renowned author of “The Lottery” and The Haunting of Hill House
“This biography-through-letters gives an intimate and warm voice to the imagination behind the treasury of uncanny tales that is Shirley Jackson’s legacy.”—Joyce Carol Oates
Shirley Jackson is one of the most important American authors of the last hundred years and among our greatest chroniclers of the female experience. This extraordinary compilation of personal correspondence has all the hallmarks of Jackson’s beloved fiction: flashes of the uncanny in the domestic, sparks of horror in the quotidian, and the veins of humor that run through good times and bad.
i am having a fine time doing a novel with my left hand and a long story—with as many levels as grand central station—with my right hand, stirring chocolate pudding with a spoon held in my teeth, and tuning the television with both feet.
Written over the course of nearly three decades, from Jackson’s college years to six days before her early death at the age of forty-eight, these letters become the autobiography Shirley Jackson never wrote. As well as being a bestselling author, Jackson spent much of her adult life as a mother of four in Vermont, and the landscape here is often the everyday: raucous holidays and trips to the dentist, overdue taxes and frayed lines of Christmas lights, new dogs and new babies. But in recounting these events to family, friends, and colleagues, she turns them into remarkable stories: entertaining, revealing, and wise. At the same time, many of these letters provide fresh insight into the genesis and progress of Jackson’s writing over nearly three decades.
The novel is getting sadder. It’s always such a strange feeling—I know something’s going to happen, and those poor people in the book don’t; they just go blithely on their ways.
Compiled and edited by her elder son, Laurence Jackson Hyman, in consultation with Jackson scholar Bernice M. Murphy and featuring Jackson’s own witty line drawings, this intimate collection holds the beguiling prism of Shirley Jackson—writer and reader, mother and daughter, neighbor and wife—up to the light.
About the Author
Shirley Jackson was born in San Francisco in 1916. She first received wide critical acclaim for her short story “The Lottery,” which was published in The New Yorker in 1948. She is the author of six novels, including The Haunting of Hill House, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, and The Sundial; two bestselling family chronicles, Life Among the Savages and Raising Demons; and hundreds of short stories, many published in five separate posthumous collections. She died in 1965 at the age of forty-eight.
Laurence Jackson Hyman (editor), the eldest child of Shirley Jackson and Stanley Edgar Hyman, has spent most of his professional life in publishing—as a writer, photographer, editor, art director, and publisher. He is the author, editor, or co-editor of dozens of books and monographs, including two posthumous collections of his mother’s stories: Just an Ordinary Day and Let Me Tell You. He was the executive producer for the 2018 film adaptation of We Have Always Lived in the Castle.
Bernice M. Murphy (academic consultant) is an associate professor/lecturer in popular literature at the School of English, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland. She edited the collection Shirley Jackson: Essays on the Literary Legacy and has written several articles and book chapters on Jackson’s writing. She is also an expert on American horror and gothic narratives. Her current work in progress is a monograph entitled California Gothic.
“Many writers feel that the self who writes exists in a partially unknowable state, separate from the self who goes about her worldly business, talking with friends and colleagues, cooking dinner, ferrying her children around. With Jackson, the division seems especially vivid. . . . [Here], the inner world that writes gives voice to the outer world that doesn’t.”—The New York Times Book Review
“[Jackson’s] fiction, full of misanthropy, madness and murder, tends to be viewed through the lens of her personal torments and, more generally, of the misogyny of the age. What is striking about Jackson’s letters, however, is that while they testify to pretty outrageous domestic double standards . . . they show very little sign of unhappiness. The mood of the missives is buoyant, garrulous and eager to amuse, and while Jackson often seems stressed and exasperated, she’s rarely despairing. . . . The labors of domesticity and artistry are fused in these letters in a way that seems to me unique.”—The Wall Street Journal
“The letters generously collected here brim with energy—they sear us with their candor and ferocity. This biography-through-letters gives an intimate and warm voice to the imagination behind the treasury of uncanny tales that is Shirley Jackson’s legacy.”—Joyce Carol Oates
“This collection, edited by Jackson’s son, brings together one of Jackson’s other great literary loves apart from short stories: the letter. Written in a distinctive lowercase typewriter font on yellow paper, the correspondence offers another view of the wit that permeated Jackson’s fiction.”—The New York Times (13 New Books Coming in July)
“The breadth of Shirley Jackson’s artistry is still being recognized. This intimate collection of her correspondence makes us feel the odds against which this working mother, daughter, and wife accomplished what she did, and at what costs. This book is surely as much a feminist document as a literary one.”—Jonathan Lethem
“The Letters of Shirley Jackson offers so much more than a simple peek behind the curtain of one of the most important literary lives of the twentieth century. Her letters are full of warmth and insight while displaying her uncompromising wit and talent, as well as a melancholic, haunted vulnerability. . . . A book to be cherished and reread.”—Paul Tremblay
“This collection was invigorating and life-sustaining for me to read, coming to me exactly when I needed it, in a way that feels like a miracle (or like someone cast a spell). These letters are so warm and funny and thoughtful and wicked, revealing an unexpectedly rich way of looking at the world that makes space for both love and horror.”—Kristen Roupenian
“[A] congenial mix of insouciance, sardonic wit and exasperation . . . The rough spontaneity of the letters . . . make this view into Jackson’s simultaneously conventional and unconventional life extremely intriguing.”—BookPage
“Shirley Jackson’s letters are just as compelling and beautifully written as her best novels. . . . At nearly 700 pages, readers are unlikely to find a book that moves with more assured swiftness than The Letters of Shirley Jackson. This is a bountiful offering fans will treasure.”—Shelf Awareness
“The life of Shirley Jackson—as a mother and a writer—emerges in vivid detail in this collection of correspondence. . . . Full of wit and heartbreak, this volume shines, and Jackson’s singular prose never fails to entertain.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“A vivid, engaging, and engrossing collection from one of American literature’s great letter writers.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)