Zenna Henderson

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Zenna Henderson
Zenna Henderson c.1953
Born (1917-11-01)November 1, 1917
Tucson, Arizona
Died May 11, 1983(1983-05-11) (aged 65)
Tucson, Arizona
Occupation Teacher, novelist, short story author
Genre Science fiction, Fantasy
Literary movement Science fiction, Fantasy
Notable works Pilgrimage: The Book of the People

Zenna Chlarson Henderson (November 1, 1917 – May 11, 1983) was an American science fiction and fantasy novella and short story author, and an elementary school teacher.


Henderson was born in 1917 in Tucson, Arizona,[1] the daughter of Louis Rudolph Chlarson and Emily Vernell Rowley. She received a bachelor of arts in education from Arizona State College in 1940, and taught school, primarily in the Tucson area, almost all first grade. She also taught in a "semi-ghost mining town," at Fort Huachuca, in France and Connecticut,[2] as well as in a Japanese internment camp in Sacaton, Arizona, during World War II.[1] She married Richard Harry Henderson in 1943, but they were divorced seven years later.

Henderson was one of the first female science fiction authors, and never used a male pen name.[3] Although her work could not be considered feminist, Henderson was one of the few writers in the 1950s and 1960s writing science fiction from a female perspective. She began reading science fiction at age 12 from magazines such as Astounding Stories, Amazing Stories, and fantasy from Weird Tales.[4]

Henderson was born and baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Though she never renounced her membership, after her marriage, she was no longer a churchgoing Latter-day Saint.[3] In the standard reference Contemporary Authors, she listed her religion as Methodist, and according to Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature, Volume 2, she was a member of Catalina United Methodist Church in Tucson.[5] In her later years, she attended an independent charismatic fellowship.[6] In an interview, she stated that she often included religious themes because her readers, particularly her young readers, liked them. She felt it was good to offer a word for "Our Sponsor" in her stories.

Zenna Henderson died of cancer in 1983 in Tucson, Arizona, and was buried in the St. David Cemetery,[7] St. David, Arizona.[1]


Most of her stories focus on the theme of being different and the dangers thereof, exemplified by the phrase "Different is dead". They often feature children or young people. Most are part of her series on the history of "The People", humanoid beings from a faraway planet who are forced to emigrate to (among other places) Earth when their home world is destroyed in a natural disaster. Scattered mostly throughout the American Southwest during their landing before 1900, they are set apart by their desire to preserve their home culture, including their religious and spiritual beliefs. Their unusual abilities ("Gifts") include telepathy, telekinesis, prophecy, and healing, which they call the "Signs and Persuasions". The stories describe groups of The People, as well as lonely isolated individuals, most often as they attempt to find communities and remain distinct in a world that does not understand them. This aspect of individuality was a common theme in most of Henderson's writing. New York Times reviewer Basil Davenport described the stories as "haunting".[8] Aldiss and Wingrove noted that "As a sentimental portrait of the alien [the series] out-Simaks Simak."[9]

Beginning with Ararat (1952), Henderson's People stories appeared in magazines and anthologies, as well as the novelized Pilgrimage: The Book of the People (1961) and The People: No Different Flesh (1966). Other volumes include The People Collection (1991) and Ingathering: The Complete People Stories (1995).[10]

Unlike the People stories, a more bitter, angry tone can be seen in stories collected in two volumes, The Anything Box and Holding Wonder, which in particular uses elementary teachers as narrators. She touches on mental illness in several tales, including obsessive-compulsive disorder in "Swept and Garnished", and agoraphobia in "Incident After". In "One Of Them", a woman's latent telepathic powers cause her to lose her identity as she unwittingly probes the minds of her co-workers. In "The Believing Child", a young daughter of a migrant worker believes so strongly in an imaginary magic word that its powers come true; she then uses her newfound powers to take revenge on her abusive classmates. And in "You Know What, Teacher?" a young girl confides in her teacher of her father's philandering, and of her mother's plan for revenge.

In the short story "The Closest School", a xenophobic school board president reaches outside himself to admit a gentle child who happens to be a furry, purple 14-eyed alien.

Adaptations in other media[edit]

In 1971, Henderson's story "Pottage" was made into an ABC-TV Movie, The People, starring William Shatner, Kim Darby, and Diane Varsi, and following the story of a group of humanoid extraterrestrials who live in an isolated rural community.[11] It was the directorial debut for John Korty and was produced by his sometime partner Francis Ford Coppola.[12] It has been released on VHS by Prism Entertainment and on DVD by American Zoetrope.


She was nominated for a Hugo Award in 1959 for her novelette Captivity, and remains a favorite author of many science fiction fans worldwide, despite the fact that her books were long out of print until the 1995 release of Ingathering: The Complete People Stories of Zenna Henderson, published by the New England Science Fiction Association Press.


  • Pilgrimage: The Book of the People (1961)
  • The Anything Box (1965)
  • The People: No Different Flesh (1967)
  • Holding Wonder (1971)
  • The People Collection (1991) [ISBN 055213659X, cover art by Mark Harrison]
  • Ingathering: The Complete People Stories of Zenna Henderson: 1995, NESFA Press, ISBN 0-915368-58-7. Review by Jo Walton.


  1. ^ a b c Smith, Curtis C. (1981). Twentieth Century Science Fiction Writers. New York: St. Martin's. 
  2. ^ Pohl, Frederik; Greenberg, Martin H.; Olander, Joseph (1980). The Great Science Fiction Series. New York: HarperCollins. ISBN 978-0060133832. 
  3. ^ a b "Mormon Literature Database – Henderson, Zenna Chlarson". Brigham Young University. 2003. Retrieved 2007-05-28. 
  4. ^ Davin, Eric Leif. Partners in Wonder: Women and the Birth of Science Fiction, 1926–1965. Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books. p. 76. 
  5. ^ Reginald, Robert (2010). Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature, Volume 2. Borgo Press. pp. 934–935. ISBN 0941028771. 
  6. ^ Patterson, Bill. "Discussion: Zenna Henderson's religion?". rec.arts.sf.written. Retrieved 13 December 2014. 
  7. ^ "Zenna Chlarson Henderson". Find a Grave. 2007. Retrieved 2007-07-30. 
  8. ^ "Realm of the Spaceman", The New York Times Book Review, January 29, 1956
  9. ^ Aldiss & Wingrove, Trillion Year Spree, Victor Gollancz, 1986, p.407
  10. ^ Wands, D. C. (May 22, 2007). "Zenna Henderson". Fantastic Fiction. Retrieved 2007-05-28. 
  11. ^ "The People (1972) (TV)". [IMDb]]. 2007. Retrieved 2007-05-28. 
  12. ^ Miller, Ron (April 21, 1995). "Film studios beckon but director John Korty prefers freedom of TV". San Jose Mercury News. 

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