Zenna Henderson was born in 1917 in Tucson, Arizona, graduated from Arizona State in 1940, and worked as a teacher in Arizona most of her life, except for a year in Connecticut, and two in France. She taught at a Japanese internment camp during WWII, at a military base, and even, as she referred to it, a semi-ghost mining town.
Raised a Mormon, after her marriage to a non L.D.S., she wasn’t active in that faith, attending a non-denominational church up until her death in 1983.
The people were a human looking alien race that were fleeing the destruction of the Home, looking for a new one. During the Crossing, one of their ships crash landed on Earth, the People escaping on life slips. Now they are scattered across the southwestern part of the North American continent. The time is 1890.
The People have physic abilities. All of them can fly(they call it lifting). Some can read minds. Others, called sensitives, feel the wounds and pain of others. They can find things such as water, precious metals, by touching, and then are able to “see” where it is in the ground.
Henderson’s first People story, Ararat, was published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in October, 1952. It concerned a young woman, an outsider, taking a job as a teacher at a community in Cougar Canyon. Warned that, while friendly, they were a bit standoffish to the world at large. The time of the story is 1940.
Her stories were filled with religious references(titles like Ararat, Gilead, and Jordan). The People were a religious folk. The Power had told them the Home was dying and what they needed to do to survive. When their time is at an end, The Power Calls them to the Presence. The living all rejoin their family members in the presence sooner or later.
Scattered as they were, a lot of them lost contact with each other. Some have gone to extraordinary lengths to deny their abilities, having suffered at the hands of superstitious people(burnings and such), branded as witches. Some, born on Earth, have grown up not knowing why they were different, their parents never telling them before their deaths. Some injured in the original crash taken in by kindly humans.
Teachers are prominent in a number of stories. One, a substitute , handicapped by a car accident, takes it upon herself to “get through” to a young boy, a foster child, everyone else has given up on. He’s troubled, but she learns of his “abilities” by accident, one that he can make music out of the air.
What I liked about these stories was the writing, the way Henderson vividly paints pictures in your mind of the society she’s creating: aliens and the few humans that know and aren’t afraid of them. She mirrors the real world with it’s intolerance of differences and makes one think. Some people have dismissed her stories as overly sentimental. I disagree.
The stories were originally gathered into two books, PILGRIMAGE: The Book of The People and THE PEOPLE: No Different Flesh, tied together to make a fix-up novel. The first tells stories from the forties on and ends with a ship coming from the new Home to rescue them. Some go and some stay(after all, most were born on Earth; it’s their Home now. The second begins with their leaving the original Home and a couple of stories set during the early days on Earth, showcasing some of the horrors and joys both of encounters with humans.
I read them many years back, though I first encountered the People in a literature book in junior high school. The first story, Ararat, was there and the phrase “platting your twishers” stuck with me many years after that until I found the paperbacks. Those two books disappeared a good while back(probably lent to somebody and never returned).
The book I’m referencing here was published by the New England Science Fiction Association Press and gathers the two books, as well as one story never published, into one handsome volume.
The two paperbacks are easily available and reasonably priced on the used book sites, though the original hardcovers command substantial costs(I saw one for $500+). Henderson was one of the few female SF writers that never used a male or androgynous sounding name to hide her sex.
Final note: a TV movie was made in 1972 of the first story I think(I’ve never seen it) that starred William Shatner and Kim Darby. It was appropriately titled The People.