Gossamer Tapestry

Reflections on conservation, butterflies, and ecology in the nation's heartland

Monday, August 03, 2009

Zenna Henderson

Shortly after Leon and I began dating in the early 1980s, we discovered that we both shared an interest in science fiction. Leon was much better read than me, and introduced me to a number of new authors. One was a woman named Zenna Henderson. I began reading a compilation of several novellas called Pilgrimage.

One story in particular, called Pottage, really spoke to me. Like the rest of her stories, it involves the People, an alien race who were dispersed across the American Southwest when their spacecraft crashed there. They had strange powers, they could levitate and fly, and were despised and persecuted by the local populace because they were different. Pottage concerns one isolated community of the People who survived by suppressing and denying their true identity and not using any of their special powers. How could a story like that not resonate with a gay man just out of the closet?

In the early 1990s, this newfangled thing called the Internet was just coming to prominence. I once did a search on her name (no, I didn't Google it. If Google even existed at that time, I wasn't aware of it. I used Yahoo). There wasn't much information. She had lived in Arizona and had been a teacher. No surprises there- both of those aspects of her stories were obviously written from the inside. She was Mormon for part of her life. This background undoubtedly also influenced here themes of alienation. She was also deceased, for about a decade. I believe that she died of cancer, and did so prematurely as she was only in her mid sixties. The minimal information that was available online about her caused me to view her life as rather mysterious.

Nearly three years ago, I began this blog. In my profile, I list Zenna Henderson's People stories as an entry in the Favorite Books section. About a year and a half ago, I received an unexpected email.
I am an occasional reader of Cobban's blog (Lopaka Lounge), and this evening I happened to click on your name after reading your most recent comment. I was so excited to see that you're a fan of Zenna Henderson's works. She will always be Mrs. Henderson to me, as she was my first grade teacher.
I was floored- someone who had actually met her. We have had a small amount of correspondence, and it has been interesting to hear of what she was actually like as a teacher. Last year, just before I went to Arizona, my friend contacted me and suggested that I might look for her grave in St. David's cemetery just outside of Benson.

It was not to happen last year. This year, however, I drove with Homer down to Bisbee to visit with Cobban and his partner Ray. On the way home, we drove right past St. David's Cemetery. As Homer is an archaeologist and avid genealogist, he was happy to stop off and help me find her headstone. I'm very pleased to have been able to pay my respects to someone whose work I admire very much. Thanks, P. for contacting me and sharing your connection with her.

Photo by Homer

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At 01:42, Blogger wcs said...

That's a great story. Glad you got to do that. The internet has made some amazing things possible, hasn't it?

At 05:40, Anonymous Wayne said...

Great sentimental fun, Zenna Henderson - thanks for the memories, Doug. I checked, and seem to have misplaced "The People: No Different Flesh," but I still have "Pilgrimage." The story you refer to of the suppressed community is "Pottage," and the town was Bendo.

Interesting about her profession as a school teacher - many of her stories revolved around teachers and "misfit" students. Sometimes though it was the teacher who was wounded and the student who provided an avenue of escape. One of my favorites of these was "The Anything Box," a short story in a collection of the same title.

Very cool. I've learned to check out Wikipedia for writers, especially obscure one, and here's the entry on Zenna Henderson.

At 10:36, Blogger robin andrea said...

It's an incredibly good thing to visit the grave of a favorite author. What a way to convey the lasting power of words.

At 14:40, Blogger rodger said...

That's a great story Doug! Evidently, Ms. Henderson had some strange powers of her own.

At 15:49, Blogger Texas Travelers said...

Wonderful story. I may have a copy of Pilgrimage.

I have been a sci-fi fan since the early 50's. I am always moving my collection of several thousand paperbacks around. I also like the art that goes with the books. Lots of copies of the same book with different covers.

Asimov's Foundation series and ancillary stories are my favorites. Heinlein, Niven, Herbert, Clark, and Harrison are close seconds.

Jean Auel's early man stories (Clan of the Cave Bear) are pretty good for people that are different.

And for fantasy, I guess "The Hobbit" tops my list.

Come visit,

At 22:29, Blogger Ur-spo said...

Indeed, touching.
I would like to visit the graves of sevearl of my favorite writers.

At 16:11, Blogger Dave Coulter said...

Cool story. When I was a kid we stopped by the grave of Robert Frost. I have grown to be a big fan of his work (of course!)

At 22:44, Blogger Homer said...

I have been to the graves of Benjamin Franklin, John Kennedy, Paul Revere, and Edgar Allen Poe!

At 19:27, Blogger Will said...

Several years ago there was a TV movie made from her stories. It was called "The People" and was apparently not very good and not well liked by Henderson's fans. I suppose it might be found through Netflix or some other video service if you were interested in it.

At 10:10, Blogger Doug Taron said...

Walt- Perhaps it's just my age showing, but I continue to be amazed at what the Internet has made possible.

Wayne- Given your recent series of fun posts of vintage scifi book covers, I'm not at all surprised that you are familiar with Ms. Henderson's work.

Robin- I'm fairly new to that sort of thing, however this experience has made me interested to visit the graves of other famous folks.

Rodger- I;ve been surprised at some of the email responses that I've gotten to this post. Apparently the People stories have touched a lot of folks.

Troy- Your collection sounds lot like Leon's. Some of the others that I would add to my list of favorites include James Tiptree Jr. and at least some of Roger Zelazny, though his Amber series should have ended long before it did.

UrSpo- I've been to Westminster Abbey and have visited Charles Dickens' grave.

Dave- I had to Google to figure out where Frost was buried. Bennington, VT. When my Dad was in college, Frost visited and read and lectured. I've always been a bit jealous that Dad got to hear him read some of his poetry.

Homer- And I thank you kindly for accompanying me. I'd like to do more of this. My only experiences with visiting famous graves have been at Graceland Cemetery in Chicago (if you visit, I think you would like it) and Westminster Abbey. At the latter, the tomb I was most moved to visit was Charles Darwin's.

Will- I saw the movie and really liked it- however I saw it years before I read any of her stories. I wonder how I would feel about the film if I were to see it again now that I have read her work.

At 22:08, Blogger CasaRosie said...

Thank you so much for your photos. I stopped in today at the St David cemetery, fulfilling a promise that I made to myself when I moved to Tombstone, to visit Zenna Henderson's grave. The cemetery isn't that large, but I was short of time, and your photo on my phone browser provided the information I needed to quickly locate her grave. (It was the mesquite in the background).
Next time I go to Benson, I will take her some flowers from my garden...I was sad to see that there are currently none on there.

At 22:25, Blogger Doug Taron said...

Hi Rosie, welcome to the Tapestry. I'm glad that my photo helped you to find the grave. There were no flowers when I visited, either and I thought about bringing some next time. I liked your blog. Anyone who posts pictures of mangosteens and rambutans gets points in my book.

At 17:41, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for your interest in Mrs. Hendrson - I have treasured her stories since I discovered her (sometime in the early 60's - my copy of the Pilgrimsge cost $1.25 - still has the price tag on it) Just recently received a Nook as a gift and was looking for her works in e-book form, so that I could have them in digital form. I too have been lugging thousand's of paperback around for over forty years and these are some of my favorites. Glad to know others loved her work as well. Jeane

At 04:24, Blogger Ed Rybicki said...

I had completely forgotten about Zenna Henderson and The People - I read "The Anything Box", and a coupe of other stories in the 70s - until I saw her name again on WWEnd.
And the memories came flooding back. Beautiful little stories, wonderfully realised, so gentle and so human. And I lost my Anything Box, and I can't find another one, and Amazon don't work so well here in the Deep South...Africa, that is.


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