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The Art of Death With Tessa Fontaine

February 23 @ 7:00 pm - March 23 @ 8:30 pm

In this five-part seminar, we’ll explore notions of death around the world, drawing from biology, history, and beyond.


Death is taboo, private, mysterious. Most of us don’t know exactly what happens to the body as it’s dying, or after it’s dead, or how to try to connect with those who are gone. In this online course, we’ll take an inquisitive and interdisciplinary approach to thinking about death and dying, incorporating medical science, case studies, and personal curiosity. We’ll learn about unusual practices in rituals surrounding dying, death, and mourning, and draw upon materials and experts in all kinds of death-related fields, from death doulas and morticians to scientists who use flesh-eating beetles to clean carcasses. Each week will include some outside materials, in-class discussions, and occasional creative writing prompts to get us thinking about death in new ways. We’ll investigate not only what happens to the dying and dead, but also what happens to the living as we come to think deeply about the other side.


There are five total sessions included in this purchase, each lasting for 1.5 hours on five consecutive Tuesdays beginning February 23.

Session 1 (Tuesday, 2/23/2021, 7–8:30 PM): What does it mean to be dead?

Session 2 (Tuesday, 3/2/2021, 7–8:30 PM): The dying process

Session 3 (Tuesday, 3/9/2021, 7–8:30 PM): Death in the wild

Session 4 (Tuesday, 3/16/2021, 7–8:30 PM): The death industry

Session 5 (Tuesday, 3/23/2021, 7–8:30 PM): What happens to the living?


Each week, students should come to class open to discussing death and dying. There will be a few reading and writing assignments outside of class (PDFs will be provided).


Tessa Fontaine is the author of The Electric Woman: A Memoir in Death-Defying Acts, a New York Times Editors’ Choice, finalist for the Utah Book Award, and best book of 2018 from Southern Living, Amazon Editors, Refinery29, PopMatters, and the New York Post. Tessa spent the 2013 season performing with the last American traveling circus sideshow, the World of Wonders. Raised outside San Francisco, Tessa has spent time in West Africa, Southeast Asia, Europe, and the United States, most recently in a 1982 camper van named Flipper that has been passed down through women in her family. She has taught in prisons and jails, led educational programs for New York Times Student Journeys, designed Experiences and Trips for Atlas Obscura, and founded Salt Lake City’s Writers in the Schools program. ​Around the country, she has performed her one-woman plays in theatres ranging from New York to San Francisco. These days, Tessa lives in Asheville, North Carolina, where she teaches at Warren Wilson College.


This is an interactive, small-group, seminar-style course that meets over Zoom. Students may be invited to participate in discussions, workshop their projects, and receive feedback from the course instructor.

In most cases, instructors will use Google Classroom to communicate with students outside of class. While students aren’t required to use Google Classroom, instructors will be using this platform to post resources, discussion questions, and assignments, when applicable.


Once registered, you’ll receive a confirmation email from Eventbrite that will provide access to the class meeting. Please save the confirmation email as you’ll use it to access your course via Zoom on each scheduled date and time.


This online course is offered by Atlas Obscura. Founded in 2009, Atlas Obscura created the definitive, community-driven guide to the most incredible places on the planet and is now an award-winning travel company that shares the world’s hidden wonders in person and online.

Our online courses offer opportunities for participants to emerge with new skills, knowledge, connections, and perspectives through multi-session classes designed and taught by expert instructors. Courses can take one of two forms: Seminars are intimate, interactive classes—capped at nine to 25 students—exploring topics and crafts through discussion, workshops, assignments, and in-class activities. We also offer lecture series that can be attended live, or viewed via a recording that will be shared within 72 hours after each session airs. Class recordings for lecture series will be available with a temporary password for up to two weeks following the final session of the course.

To learn more about our current course offerings, please visit www.atlasobscura.com/online-courses.


February 23 @ 7:00 pm
March 23 @ 8:30 pm
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