Zenna Henderson

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(Short Story Criticism)

Zenna Henderson 1917-1983

American short story writer.

Henderson is best known for her series of imaginative tales about a race of aliens, known as the People, who settled on Earth late in the nineteenth century. Although they are commonly classified as science fiction stories, Henderson's works are, by her own admission, drawn from events in her own life: "All the stories," she stated, "are based on students I have taught, places I've known, experiences I've had." Moreover, despite featuring characters who are aliens, the stories are deeply concerned with human morality and spirituality, and with "all the wonderful, slow miracles of life, growth, and being."

Biographical Information

Henderson was born September 1, 1917, in Tucson, the second of five children of Louis and Emily Chlarson. Her family was deeply religious, which had a significant impact on her later writing. She was raised in the Mormon faith but converted to Methodism as an adult. Henderson graduated from Phoenix Union High School in Phoenix and received her bachelor's degree from Arizona Teachers College (now Arizona State University) in 1940; she received her master's degree from the same institution fourteen years later. Henderson began writing in the 1940s and had her first stories published late in that decade. Henderson was a teacher throughout her adult life. During World War II she taught at the Japanese American Relocation Camp in Rivers, Arizona; from 1956 to 1958 she taught at a U.S. Air Force base in France; and from 1958 to 1959 she taught at a tuberculosis hospital in Connecticut. Most of her career, however, was spent as a grade school teacher in Eloy, Arizona. Henderson died on May 11, 1983.

Major Works

Henderson published four collections of short stories; all the pieces had previously appeared in various magazines and journals. The stories in each of the volumes Pilgrimage: The Book of the People and The People: No Different Flesh were "novelized": modified and adapted to form a unified work. These books concern the People, a race of aliens—indistinguishable from humans except for their exceptional psychic powers—who settle on Earth in the late nineteenth century. The stories explore the relationship between humans and the aliens, as the People try to adapt to their new surroundings and the frequent hostility of humans (called Outsiders by the People), while preserving their unique cultural identity. Henderson, employing motifs...

(The entire section is 578 words.)