Ruth Franklin at Northshire Bookstore

Yesterday my friend Emily and I drove up to Manchester, VT for Ruth Franklin’s event at the Northshire Bookstore. It’s about a three hour drive from the Connecticut shoreline, but we love the Northshire and needed a good six hours to talk about books.

Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin

Franklin’s recently released biography, Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life, has been generating a lot of buzz and receiving great reviews.

“Ruth Franklin is the biographer Jackson needed: she tells the story of the author in a way that made me want to reread every word Jackson ever wrote.” — Neil Gaiman

Ruth Franklin at Northshire Bookstore, Manchester, VT
Ruth Franklin at the Northshire Bookstore

Franklin talked for about 45 minutes, read a bit from her book, and then took questions from the audience. Some highlights:

  • Jackson didn’t get the recognition she deserved while she was alive for a variety of reasons, but a primary factor is that she was pigeonholed as a horror writer, a genre the literary establishment has never taken seriously. Jackson is partially responsible for this as she relished her reputation as a witch. She was a serious student of historical witches.
  • Jackson’s reputation has also been harmed by a lack of scholarly apparatus. One of Franklin’s goals in writing this biography was to establish a chronology of Jackson’s writing: when she wrote what, when works were published, etc. Much of this information was unknown or inaccurate.
  • Jackson was a wife and mother in a time when those roles typically precluded a professional career. Being a faculty wife was a double whammy, even if she was the main breadwinner of the family for 20+ years. When she checked into the hospital to have her third child, the clerk asked what her job was, to which Jackson replied, “Writer.” The clerk’s reply was to write down ‘housewife.’ This was just after the publication and wild popularity of “The Lottery.”
  • Jackson’s archival papers are a rather disorganized mess (50 boxes at the Library of Congress). After she died her desk was cleared off and boxed up pretty much as is, candy wrappers included. Because of this Franklin was able to see relationships between documents that were boxed together just as Jackson had left them on her desk:  a dream journal, a letter to her therapist, and the novel she was working on, all of which are related, remained side by side.

Ruth Frankin Insist on Your Cup of Stars - Shirley Jackson
Insist on your cup of stars!

The evening ended much too soon. I could have listened to Franklin talk for hours. I purchased a copy and asked her to signed it. The inscription reads: “To Chris — insist on your cup of stars!” Fans of The Haunting of Hill House will get that reference. Those of you who don’t will just have to read the novel.

I’m looking forward to diving into this hefty biography in November. I’ve only read “The Lottery,” We Have Always Lived in a Castle, and The Haunting of Hill House (one of my all time favorites), but based on Franklin’s talk alone I foresee more Jackson works in my reading future.

Title: Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life
Author: Ruth Franklin
Publisher:  W.W. Norton/Liveright, September 2016


  1. Dang, wish I could have come to this. But I'm glad you were able to anyway. Watch for a Shirley Jackson Top Ten tomorrow as part of Witch Week!

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