Her delightful "The Third Baby's the Easiest" best sums up Jackson's struggle toward a writer's existence. She recounts her arrival at the hospital maternity ward for said baby:
"Name? the desk clerk said to me politely, her pencil poised.
"Name," I said vaguely. I remembered, and told her.
"Age?" she asked. "Sex? Occupation?"
"Writer," I said.
"Housewife," she said.
"Writer," I said.
"I'll just put down housewife," she said.
This kind of resistance to Shirley Jackson goes on still.
Recently, Newsweek critic Malcolm Jones supposed that the LOA was running out of consequential American writers to highlight. "Shirley Jackson?" he wrote. "A writer mostly famous for one short story, 'The Lottery.' Is LOA about to jump the shark?"
Forget one moment that Mr. Jones used the phrase "jump the shark" and that any discussion that includes that unhappy Happy Days moment grinds to a halt, the argument that seeks to judge a writer by his or her most "famous" work at the present would preclude many of the writers in the LOA canon, not just Jackson. What is Washington Irving "mostly famous" for now? Living as I do, in the Hudson Valley, the only Irving presence I spot is the annual Headless Horseman re-enactment in nearby Sleepy Hollow, but that hardly demeans Irving from his stature as the first American writer to actually make a living from his art.
In these Young Adult Fiction days of The Hunger Games, it is hard to overestimate the commercial importance of that short story or the artistic importance of its author that Mr. Jones is so disdainful of. In explaining the inspiration for "The Lottery," Shirley Jackson may have joked that she was a "practicing witch" to the dismay of a 1950s reading public, but she was also a practicing writer, sometimes reaching perfection, and what other qualification does a writer need to be in the canon?