Lions and Churches.

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My most recent story, Gunn, is up at the American Literary Review, the fiction, poetry and non-fiction journal of the University of North Texas. Do noodle about and read it here.

This story went through two phases of workshop with Jonathan Ames and Elizabeth McCracken. Thanks so much to my peers for saving it from barreling in a much more ridiculous direction (a dream about the love of a woman for a lion). Instead, the story is about African Traditional Churches, lion conservatories, Tanzania, and the tension between science and religion. Everything in this story is fictional but loosely based on research.

Generally, I am fascinated by how we experience the spiritual in the secular world – whether through music, art, dance…William James wrote a lot about faith being a matter of “shared belief”; faith is how we experience a thing greater than ourselves, together in a group. I want to explore how we agree to believe in an idea, place, or state, with other people, in order to feel less alone.

This story was a runner-up in the journal’s 2010 Fiction contest, judged by Donald Hays, who wrote some very nice things about it. I am very grateful to be featured on their site and to have been chosen as a finalist.


3 comments

  1. Sarah

    Hi Nora,

    I chose to read “Gunn” for my Intro to Creative Writing class’ discussion on short stories. I was drawn to your story at first because of its setting, and quickly appreciated it for its use of imagery, pacing, diction, and its emotional quality.

    I was wondering how you became inspired to write “Gunn”. Have you spent time on an African reserve? You certainly knew what you were writing about!

    Thank you for your story.

    • Nora Khan

      Dear Sarah,

      Thank you so much for reading the story, and for your kind words! They are much appreciated. I’m really happy that you chose the story for your class.

      To answer your question, I was moved to write the story after a series of unusual events. There’s always some weird alchemy of happenings that help me pick a story.

      First, I had a dream very similar to the dream sequence at the story’s end: a girl, and a lion (which was made of metal in the dream), alone on the veldt. That seemed worth taking down, her perspective, worth doodling around and expanding upon. At the time, I was thinking about the division between religious thinkers and rationalists/science heros, like Sagan or Dawkins, and how inimical and fruitless the discussions between the two sides seemed to be, with one side dismissing the other out of hand. There seemed to be few moments that great “men and women of science” hear about the spiritual experiences or the very possibility of spiritual experience without the immediate counter, that it is not real, and so, illegitimate. Fantasy. Delusion.

      And yet large swathes of the world population have deep religious convictions. If not a member of an institutional religion, many other people seem to express some sensation of being spiritual, or an understanding of what spirituality is like. I wanted to draw out this conflict in rhetoric by telling a story about two types of people – the member of an ATC and a no-nonsense Western biologist. Then, weave in the conflict between perspectives, values and ways, really, of seeing the world.

      In general, I am interested in how we experience the spiritual in the secular world – whether through music, art, dance. William James writes very beautifully about faith being a matter of “shared belief”; faith is how we experience a thing greater than ourselves, together in a group. I want to explore how we agree to believe in an idea, place, or state, with other people, in order to feel less alone.

      I certainly have not spent time on a reserve, but I’ve done a lot of reading and research. Hours and weeks sunk in libraries. Research on African traditional churches, on evangelism, on the conflict between conservationists and local peoples up and down the African coast. I first make a point of absorbing all this material, digesting it. Then I step back to find the voice and discern which details are necessary. The story itself, though, is from imagination!

      Thank you again for dropping in. Please feel free to e-mail me, and best of luck in your creative endeavors.

      Sincere Regards,
      Nora

      • Sarah

        Thank you for taking the time to respond, Nora! Much appreciated!

        That is very inspiring that you were able to write with such authentic detail about a place you have never visited. I’ve just learned a lesson about the value of research.

        And thank you for your encouraging words!

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