'Lottery Day' puts spotlight on enigmatic author
NORTH BENNINGTON, Vt. — "Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon."
Thus, the reason for the June 27 ritual in "The Lottery," Shirley Jackson's famous short story.
The story, published in The New Yorker on June 26, 1948, chronicles a small American town's annual lottery — the selection of a townsperson's name and the resulting death by stoning to ensure a healthy crop harvest.
In Bennington, "Lottery Day" has become a cause for celebration — of Jackson.
On or around June 27 each year, Bennington's bibliophiles congregate to celebrate Jackson, who continues to lure and enliven readers more than 50 years after her death.
For those unfamiliar with Jackson, the celebrations might seem somewhat mysterious — how does Jackson continue to engage readers to such a degree, after all these years?
Jackson, known for her use of enigma and psychological suspense, has been hailed for her novels "We Have Always Lived in the Castle" and "The Haunting of Hill House," but she also penned two memoirs, four books for children and countless short stories.
While bibliophiles across the world commemorate "Lottery Day" on June 27, in Bennington, those celebrations have become known as "Shirley Jackson Day" in an effort to continually engage local readers with the author's work and their own history.
"Shirley Jackson Day emerged as part of an endeavor more than 10 years ago to bring interesting programs in the humanities and the arts to Bennington, and part of that effort was to make use of local resources that may have been overlooked," explained longtime organizer Tom Fels. "As a schoolmate of Jackson's children, and visitor to their house, I was aware that we had a treasure to share."
The revival of Jackson's legacy peaked in 2016, the 100th anniversary of the author's birth, with the publication of a new collection of unpublished works, "Let Me Tell You," edited by two of her children; a new biography by literary scholar Ruth Franklin; a graphic novel of "The Lottery" illustrated by Jackson's grandson, Miles Hyman; and a ballet based on the short story that continues to tour the country. According to Fels, other Jackson-inspired film, stage and television projects are in production.
"Jackson was an overlooked writer, not only in her hometown, but nationally as well," Fels said. "This has, to some extent, been mitigated in recent years by new books about her, new projects related to her work, and the republishing of her novels, stories and memoirs. As of last year, all of her books were back in print, and an excellent new biography and collection of her work were available."
"Jackson was a longtime resident of North Bennington, and she wrote 'The Lottery' when she lived here," said Jennie Rozycki, director of the John G. McCullough Free Library who has assumed the helm of the annual event this year.
This year's celebration will take place at North Bennington's Left Bank Gallery at 7 p.m. Saturday, featuring four readers associated with the national Shirley Jackson Awards organization.
SJA co-founder F. Brett Cox, author of "The End of All Our Exploring: Stories," will be joined by fellow board member John Langan, author of "The Fisherman" and "House of Windows." Sam J. Miller, a 2016 SJA winner for short fiction, and Veronica Schanoes, a 2013 SJA winner for best novelette, will round out the evening's program.
"[The Shirley Jackson Day celebration] connects our community with its past, with an important literary figure and, in gathering together, with one another and a shared history," Rozycki said. "This year's art show at The Left Bank is also really fun, and very much in keeping with the theme."
Curated by artist Rhonda Ratray, the accompanying show, titled "Am I Walking Toward Something I Should be Running Away From?" was inspired by Jackson's short story, "Lovers Meeting," and features a range of works, including paintings, photographs, drawings and sculpture.
According to Ratray, the show grapples with the conflict inherent in its title — encompassing feelings of doubt, fear and excitement — as well as the relationship between the mind and the body.
"I used the title as the guideline for choosing the artwork, and was specifically looking for pieces that evoked a struggle, anticipation, unsettling excitement in the face of danger — akin to a moth and a flame," Ratray said. "I think the show compliments the literary event in that the artists are giving visual representation to complicated sentiments, in some ways exploring different facets of that conflict."
That fundamental human conflict that Ratray has recognized rests at the core of Jackson's work and continues to engage readers.
"The best speculative fiction forces readers to confront the true horrors of this world — namely, how poorly people can treat one another and the dangers of groupthink," Rozycki said. "Her work often focuses on the internal lives of those pushed to the edges of society for being different or strange, especially within the context of a small town."
"'The Lottery' is one of the most anthologized [stories] in the language," Fels added. "Jackson's short life limited her output, but it is clear from what she did accomplish that she was a brilliant thinker and writer, with an artistic personality that will survive the years."
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