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“I was thinking about my neighbours”: Shirley Jackson on her literary inspiration

Let Me Tall You: New Stories, Essays, and Other Writings, Shirley Jackson
Shirley Jackson’s classic story “The Lottery” first appeared in The New Yorker

Sometimes, the creepiest stories can arise out of the most prosaic material. Below, Shirley Jackson talks about her inspiration for “The Lottery,” from a lecture titled “How I Write.”

I remember one spring morning I was on my way to the store, pushing my daughter in her stroller, and on my way down the hill I was thinking about my neighbours, the way everyone in a small town does. The night before, I had been reading a book about choosing a victim for a sacrifice, and I was wondering who in our town would be a good choice for such a thing. Also I was wondering what would happen if they drew lots by family; would the Campbell boys, who haven’t spoken to each other in nearly twenty years, have to stand together? And I was wondering what would happen about the Garcia boy, who had married a girl his parents couldn’t stand – would she have to be admitted as a member of the family? I was so fascinated by the idea of the people I knew in such a situation, I thought that when I got home I might try writing it down and seeing what happened. So after I bought my groceries and pushed my daughter back up the hill and put her in the playpen, I sat down at the typewriter and wrote down the story I had been telling myself all morning. Because I was interested in method, I called the story “The Lottery,” and after it was printed people kept writing me letters about it, saying what a frightening story it was, and how did I ever think of a horrible thing like that? For a while I tried telling them that I was just thinking about my neighbours, but no one would believe me. Incidentally, no one in our small town has ever heard of The New Yorker, much less read my story.

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