Looking at two stories comparatively in the writers group this week and last week, as one of our writers was turned on to Shirley Jackson’s ‘The Lottery’ for the first time. We were discussing how a story can be told in multiple ways, so so I suggested one of my favorites, ;’The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas’ by Ursula K. Le Guin. Spending some time with these stories and looking into the authors, I learned more about them. Shirley Jackson wrote, beyond her most apparent ‘one hit wonder’ audience, several novels and dozens of short stories. Her novel The Haunting of Hill House is now a popular Netflix Series, though its adaptation is not without controversy [1 2 3]. I am more familiar with Le Guin’s work, having read ‘Omelas’ in a collection at some juncture, and just recently read ‘The Lathe of Heaven’ and being incredibly affected by it, having long been intrigued by reference to the title in a Mystery Science Theater 3000 bit. I’d guess it was a Frank Conniff of Trace riff if I had to.
But reading these stories in conjunction gave me an opportunity to listen to some other short stories of these authors and I feel their work is worth exploring so I want to provide an introduction to their work with a discussion of these stories. We are meeting tonight in just about half an hour and I hope to post some comments on what we discuss after. In the meantime here is some information on the authors from wikipedia in case you want to explore more on your own, as well as some discussions and the two stories in question.
Ursula K. Le Guin –
Ursula Kroeber Le Guin (/ˈkroʊbər lə ˈɡwɪn/; October 21, 1929 – January 22, 2018) was an American author best known for her works of speculative fiction, including science fiction works set in her Hainish universe, and the Earthseafantasy series. She was first published in 1959, and her literary career spanned nearly sixty years, producing more than twenty novels and over a hundred short stories, in addition to poetry, literary criticism, translations, and children’s books. Frequently described as an author of science fiction, Le Guin has also been called a “major voice in American Letters”. Le Guin herself said she would prefer to be known as an “American novelist”.
Le Guin was born in Berkeley, California, to author Theodora Kroeber and anthropologist Alfred Louis Kroeber. Having earned a master’s degree in French, Le Guin began doctoral studies but abandoned these after her marriage in 1953 to historian Charles Le Guin. She began writing full-time in the late 1950s and achieved major critical and commercial success with A Wizard of Earthsea (1968) and The Left Hand of Darkness (1969), which have been described by Harold Bloom as her masterpieces. For the latter volume, Le Guin won both the Hugo and Nebula awards for best novel, becoming the first woman to do so. Several more works set in Earthsea or the Hainish universe followed; others included books set in the fictional country of Orsinia, several works for children, and many anthologies.
Cultural anthropology, Taoism, feminism, and the writings of Carl Jung all had a strong influence on Le Guin’s work. Many of her stories used anthropologists or cultural observers as protagonists, and Taoist ideas about balance and equilibrium have been identified in several writings. Le Guin often subverted typical speculative fiction tropes, such as through her use of dark-skinned protagonists in Earthsea, and also used unusual stylistic or structural devices in books such as the experimental work Always Coming Home (1985). Social and political themes, including race, gender, sexuality, and coming of age were prominent in her writing, and she explored alternative political structures in many stories, such as in the parable “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” (1973) and the anarchist utopian novel The Dispossessed (1974).
Le Guin’s writing was enormously influential in the field of speculative fiction, and has been the subject of intense critical attention. She received numerous accolades, including eight Hugos, six Nebulas, and twenty-two Locus Awards, and in 2003 became the second woman honored as a Grand Master of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. The U.S. Library of Congress named her a Living Legend in 2000, and in 2014, she won the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. Le Guin influenced many other authors, including Booker Prize winner Salman Rushdie, David Mitchell, Neil Gaiman, and Iain Banks. After her death in 2018, critic John Clute wrote that Le Guin had “presided over American science fiction for nearly half a century”, while author Michael Chabon referred to her as the “greatest American writer of her generation”.
Shirley Jackson – from Wikipedia
Shirley Hardie Jackson (December 14, 1916 – August 8, 1965) was an American writer known primarily for her works of horror and mystery. Over the duration of her writing career, which spanned over two decades, she composed six novels, two memoirs, and more than 200 short stories.
Born in San Francisco, California, Jackson attended Syracuse University in New York, where she became involved with the university’s literary magazine and met her future husband Stanley Edgar Hyman. After they graduated, the couple moved to New York and began contributing to The New Yorker, with Jackson as a fiction writer and Hyman as a contributor to “Talk of the Town”.
After publishing her debut novel The Road Through the Wall (1948), a semi-autobiographical account of her childhood in California, Jackson gained significant public attention for her short story “The Lottery“, which presents the sinister underside of a bucolic American village. She continued to publish numerous short stories in literary journals and magazines throughout the 1950s, some of which were assembled and reissued in her 1953 memoir Life Among the Savages. In 1959, she published The Haunting of Hill House, a supernatural horror novel widely considered to be one of the best ghost stories ever written.[a]
“The persona that Jackson presented to the world was powerful, witty, even imposing,” wrote Zoë Heller in the New Yorker. “She could be sharp and aggressive with fey Bennington girls and salesclerks and people who interrupted her writing. Her letters are filled with tartly funny observations. Describing the bewildered response of New Yorker readers to ‘The Lottery,’ she notes, ‘The number of people who expected Mrs. Hutchinson to win a Bendix washing machine at the end would amaze you.'”
In an era when women were not encouraged to work outside the home, Jackson became the chief breadwinner while also raising the couple’s four children.
“She did work hard,” her son Laurence said. “She was always writing, or thinking about writing, and she did all the shopping and cooking, too. The meals were always on time. But she also loved to laugh and tell jokes. She was very buoyant that way.” For examples of her wit, he refers readers to her many humorous cartoons, one of which depicts a husband cautioning a wife not to carry heavy things during pregnancy, but not offering to help.
By the 1960s, Jackson’s health began to deteriorate significantly, ultimately leading to her death due to a heart condition in 1965 at the age of 48. Jackson has been cited as an influence on a diverse set of authors, including Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Sarah Waters, Nigel Kneale, Claire Fuller, Joanne Harris, and Richard Matheson.