The Death Class

A True Story About Life

By Erika Hayasaki
(Simon & Schuster, Hardcover, 9781451642858, 288pp.)

Publication Date: January 14, 2014

Other Editions of This Title: Paperback

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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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Praise For The Death Class

eoeWho would want to take a class on death? Everyone, it turns out. Dr. Norma Bowe, the most popular professor on campus and instructor of e~Death in Perspectivee(TM) at Kean University is an unsung hero of our day. Erika Hayasaki takes us on an unforgettable journey with Dr. Bowe and the many people in her orbit touched by her wisdom and compassion. Erikae(TM)s book is the last lesson youe(TM)d ever need on life.e
-Ruth Davis Konigsberg, author of The Truth About Grief: The Myth of Its Five Stages and the New Science of Loss

eoeThe Death Class is at once puncturing and redemptive, sharing humanitye(TM)s most painful, violent face while at the same time revealing a fierce optimism and stunning generosity. It is more than a glimpse of a remarkable educational experiment. It shares the story of an extraordinary teacher whose very life is the class while weaving together the lives of students who struggle with complex, tormenting problems and find grace in each other. Its stories have lodged in me and will not soon let me go.e
-Erica Brown, author of Happier Endings: A Meditation on Life and Death

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