The Death Class

The Death Class

A True Story about Life

By Erika Hayasaki

Simon & Schuster, Hardcover, 9781451642858, 263pp.

Publication Date: January 14, 2014


In this gripping true story, an extraordinary professor who teaches a popular course on death plunges deep into the off-campus hours of her most vulnerable students and shows them how to live.

Each year, Kean University in Union, New Jersey, offers an exclusive class called Death in Perspective. Led by Professor Norma Bowe, the objective of the class is to “develop an understanding of the nature and experiences of the stages of dying, death, and bereavement.” It has a three-year waiting list.

But as acclaimed journalist Erika Hayasaki discovers, by teaching mortality, Dr. Bowe is quietly rescuing students from tragedy. As she takes her students to cemeteries, prisons, morgues, and hospitals, she shows how the contemplation of the end can change an adult’s beginning. Over the course of two years, she intervenes with one student and her suicidal mother, mentors another with a mentally ill brother, and redeems a third from his life in a gang. And in the end, the students themselves heal Dr. Bowe herself from the lingering pain of a childhood she has long repressed.

On one level, The Death Class is about the loss of life; on another level, it’s a celebration of what the human spirit can conquer. It’s about how we can survive and learn to live a meaningful life.

About the Author
Erika Hayasaki spent nine years as a reporter for the" Los Angeles Times" before becoming an assistant professor in the Literary Journalism program at the University of California, Irvine. She is a recipient of the "Los Angeles Times "Best Writing Award, the Association of Sunday Feature Editors Award, and the American Society of Newspaper Editors Breaking News Award.

Sunday, Jan 19, 2014

After covering the shootings at Virginia Tech, journalist Erika Hayasaki became interested in how people respond to death. Her new book is about a nurse and professor named Norma Bowe who taught an entire class to help students confront death head-on. More at

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