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Nora Gallagher

Speaker and preacher on subjects of faith, doubt and conscience, and author of Moonlight Sonata at the Mayo Clinic.

Nora Gallagher on “Finding God in Illness and Vulnerability”
  • About Nora Gallagher

    Annie Dillard has said that Nora Gallagher’s writing “describes church life and spiritual life with absolute accuracy.” Gallagher is the author of three memoirs: Moonlight Sonata at the Mayo Clinic; Things Seen and Unseen: A Year Lived in Faith, and Practicing Resurrection. Gallagher’s upbringing in New Mexico, close to Los Alamos, gave her inspiration for her novel Changing Light, published by Pantheon Books in 2007. Changing Light posits what would have happened had one of the physicists working on the bomb decided to leave the project and work against it? What if he left the secret city under the cover of night, she realized, and swam across the Rio Grande. Who might have found him?

    Nora has received many writing fellowships (MacDowell Colony, Blue Mountain Center, Mesa Refuge) and her readings and lectures include events at the University of California, Berkeley; Stanford University; All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, the Quest Project (Methodist Bishops Annual Retreat), as well as “Growing in the Spiritual Life” Conferences. She was keynote speaker at the triennial gathering of the Women of the Evangelical Church in America (ELCA) in 2011. Along with her books, Nora Gallagher also assigns and edits environmental essays for Patagonia, Inc. (an outdoor clothing manufacturer that gives 1% of its profits to environmental causes). Nora is the editor of the award-winning Notes from the Field, published by Chronicle Books in 1999. She was educated at St. John’s College (the College of the Great Books) and sits on the advisory board of the Yale Divinity School. She has preached widely, including at St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in Seattle; St. Paul’s Cathedral, San Diego and Stanford Memorial Church. She is available and prepared to lead retreats, give readings, teach workshops, present at clergy days or other special events, and deliver keynote addresses and lectures.

  • Speaking Topics

    The Moonlight Sonata at the Mayo Clinic

    In 2009, Nora Gallagher was told her right optic nerve was inflamed, a condition that would cause her to lose her sight if left untreated. The diagnosis marked her departure from ordinary life and the beginning of her travels in the land of the sick, or what she called “Oz.” Gallagher detailed her journey in her compelling memoir, Moonlight Sonata at the Mayo Clinic. Her lectures offer deeply felt meditations on suffering and vulnerability.

    • For medical audiences: What doctors and clinic staff might learn from a well-formed, articulate patient about the country patients are living in as well as vulnerability and its ramifications for medical relationships.

    • Faith audiences: Gallagher offers a nuanced discussion of faith—as she has in her prior memoirs--that will interest spiritually minded readers as well as anyone interested in living an introspective life. Her lectures regarding vulnerability are of particular interest to those communities seeking a way to revive Christianity in this challenging time. Gallagher describes her personal experience pulling back from the Christianity formed in the 4th century (the empire’s religion) and returning to an earlier path, made by followers of Jesus, not as King but as fellow sufferer.

    • General audiences: With unerring candor, and no sentimentality whatsoever, Gallagher describes the unexpected twists and turns of the path she took through a medical mystery and an unfathomably changing life. She gives us a singular, luminous map for traversing dark landscapes. She sheds light on the misunderstood idea of vulnerability and its gifts.

    Above the Bomb

    In her novel, Changing Light, Nora Gallagher asks: what would have happened had one of the physicists from Los Alamos decided to leave the Manhattan project and work against it? The result is a love story set in the summer of 1945 in the shadow of Los Alamos and the making of the first atomic bomb. In this talk, Gallagher explores writing and imagination and our capacity to find moral clarity by bringing to light a shadowed history.

    Faith and the Practice of Writing

    Many of us have skewed ideas about how to write. Well-meaning professors who were not writers taught outlines, the three-point essay, and “ transition” sentences. Add church lingo and religious clichés and you’ve got writing that often ends up solipsistic or, worse, dishonest. This workshop puts many writing doctrines aside and replaces them with different, more active and alive methods of discovering voice. In addition, participants may find that faith can be clarified or revived by the practice of good writing.

  • Video

  • Praise for Nora Gallagher


    Nora is a treasure. Her sermon on Sunday was very meaningful for so many who heard it. I have not yet seen all of the evaluations for WomanKind, but the ones I have read give her lots of praise for both her writing workshops and participation on the panel. Her gracious and introspective style and her subtle wit make her very accessible to the demographic who comes to WomanKind. Hearing Nora speak is a lot like reading her writing. She is both gentle and powerful. Every word seems carefully chosen with a sense of weighty tenderness. She is not flashy, but that’s not what we wanted from her. We wanted permission to feel and wrestle and doubt and dare, and that is what she offered us.

    St. James’s Episcopal Church

    Brilliant, soulful, honest and vulnerable. Her words resonate deeply with so many who have lived in or currently living in ‘Oz.’  She serves as a guide of a world longing for understanding and hope.

    Christ Episcopal Church

    Praise for Moonlight Sonata at the Mayo Clinic

    Nora Gallagher is perfect company, both witty and deep, and she describes...spiritual life with absolute accuracy.

    Annie Dillard, author of A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

    I love all of Nora Gallagher's books. She's everything I love—smart, searching, vulnerable, faithful, doubting, deeply real and a beautiful writer.

    Anne Lamott

    In Moonlight Sonata, terrified that she will lose her life—or everything that gives it meaning—Gallagher radically redefines what faith means to her. Anyone who has experienced serious illness will appreciate her journey.

    Christian Century

    Part medical mystery, part critique of the American health-care system, and part commentary on modern faith.

    The Washington Post

    A poetic tale of a personal medical crisis. . . . The author navigates the complex American health care system, the fear and mystery surrounding her search for medical answers and healing, and her renewed appreciation for the necessity of vision: to read, to write, and to view the world. . . . A deeply introspective journey.

    Kirkus Reviews
  • Books by Nora Gallagher

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and Availability

  • 212 572-2013
  • Nora Gallagher travels from Santa Barbara, CA

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