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Cullman Center Institute for Teachers: The Story of a Story: Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”


When "The Lottery" was published in 1948 in The New Yorker, it generated an unprecedented number of letters. Some readers were furious, some were simply puzzled as to what the story meant, others assumed it was a work of nonfiction and wanted to know where they could witness such lotteries. We'll look at the story itself and a selection of these letters, as well as some responses from Jackson and her editors. Questions to be considered: Where does “The Lottery” fit in the context of Jackson’s other work? Is it uniquely a product of its time, or is it better viewed as a version of ancient mythic archetypes?

Ruth Franklin is a literary critic and senior editor at The New Republic. She has also been published in The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, Bookforum, The New York Times Book Review, Slate, and Salmagundi. Her book, A Thousand Darknesses: Lies and Truth in Holocaust Fiction, was a finalist for the 2012 Sami Rohr Prize in Jewish Literature. At the Cullman Center, she is writing a biography of Shirley Jackson.