from the shadows to the spotlight

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December 14, 2021 would have been the 105th birthday of American writer Shirley Jackson. Although she was well known during her lifetime, after her death in 1965 her work fell into relative obscurity. Over the past decade, however, a wave of new critical and creative work has brought his writing to the attention of a new generation of readers.

Jackson, one of America’s most important post-war writers, is once again in the cultural spotlight. Trinity College Dublin will commemorate her birth on the evening of December 14 with a free online event exploring why the Jackson Renaissance is happening and discussing the past, present and future landscapes of Shirley Jackson’s studies.

Between 1948 – when she first rose to public awareness with the publication of her controversial story The Lottery – and 1965, Jackson published six complete novels, dozens of short stories, several children’s books, countless magazine articles and two volumes of humor. family memories. His work was adapted twice for the big screen during his lifetime – most famous in 1963, when his immensely influential supernatural horror novel The Haunting of Hill House (1959) was filmed under the title The Haunting.

One of Jackson’s most notable literary qualities was his remarkable versatility. Indeed, the popularity of his more overtly Gothic and horror-related material means that his skills as one of the best comedians of his day have, until recently, been often overlooked. She has written witty stories about her experiences as a wife and mother for the lucrative market of women’s magazines, while working on a series of novels that focus on troubled young women who find themselves unable to cope. conform to the restrictive expectations of the world around them. Yet even in Jackson’s ostensibly light-hearted comedy skits, we see glimpses of the obscurity and moments of irrepressible humor surface, even in his darkest works of fiction.

However, despite the considerable degree of commercial and critical success she accumulated over the course of her life, in the decades following Jackson’s death, her reputation waned and she was largely denied the academic attention that her work did. deserved.

As event co-organizer Janice Deitner points out in an article written for the symposium (available on the event’s website), in the US, children often read The Lottery in school and later remember only the intense experience. Beyond this story, many know little or nothing about Jackson and his work. Nonetheless, it had a significant impact on the development of the horror genre; Stephen King has often cited his work as a major influence on his own fiction, as have the current generation of horror writers, some of whom administer the Shirley Jackson Awards in his honor.

The extent of this influence was again highlighted when legendary genre editor Ellen Datlow compiled When Things Get Dark (Titan, 2021), a collection of Jackson-inspired short stories written by numerous horror writers and hottest fantasy films today, including Laird Barron, Elizabeth Hand, Kelly Link, Carmen Maria Machado and Paul Tremblay. Datlow’s collection is just one in a series of Jackson-related publishing events over the past decade, including the appearance of the posthumous Let Me Tell You collection (2015). Immediately before its release, The New Yorker (who first printed The Lottery) published two stories from the volume, as well as interviews with Jackson’s eldest son, Laurence Jackson Hyman, who edited the collection in conjunction with his sister. , Sarah Hyman Dewitt. Shortly after this return to literary notoriety, Ruth Franklin published a new biography of the critically acclaimed author titled Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life (2016).

The renewed popular interest in Jackson’s work was further reinforced in 2018 with the release of the first film adaptation of his latest classic novel, We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962), and Mike Flanagan’s Netflix series. The Haunting of Hill House, which is loosely based on Jackson’s novel. Penguin Classics and Library of America have released new editions of his work with introductions from such figures as director Guillermo del Toro and authors Victor LaValle, Joyce Carol Oates, and Otessa Moshfegh. Jackson herself has also been fictionalized: she and her husband, critic Stanley Edgar Hyman, both appear in Shirley: A Novel (2014) by Susan Scarf Merrell, which was adapted for theaters in 2020. The earlier publication in 2021 from The Selected Shirley Jackson’s Letters, edited by Laurence Jackson Hyman, with TCD’s Bernice M Murphy as an academic consultant, brought more public and critical attention to the author’s life and writing.

There were also a number of important academic developments in Jackson’s studies. A growing volume of journal articles, book chapters, edited collections, conference papers, dissertations, and doctoral theses are indicative of the current boom in academic engagement in Jackson’s work. Popular literature, including horror and Gothic studies, is one of the main areas of research and teaching at Trinity College School of English. Three of our doctoral graduates have completed some or all of their dissertations on Jackson, and his fiction is very popular with our undergraduates.

Event co-organizer Bernice M Murphy edited Jackson’s first essay collection (Shirley Jackson: Essays on the Literary Legacy, 2005). In 2018, Murphy received a PhD from Provost to work with Janice Deitner on a doctoral project examining the body / mind divide in Jackson’s critically neglected writing. Dara Downey, who has completed her doctorate and postdoctoral project in DBT and lectures on the Trinity Access program, is completing a literary biography of Jackson for Palgrave’s Literary Lives series (forthcoming in 2023).

Trinity is therefore ideally placed to host one of the premier international events dedicated solely to Jackson’s writing and criticism. In addition to celebrating Jackson’s birthday, the symposium will also help chart the future of Jackson’s studies.

The Shirley Jackson in the 21st Century Reading will take place online at the Trinity Long Room Hub on Tuesday, December 14 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Registration is free and details can be found here.

Conference website


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