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A Brave Conversation About Death with Caitlin Doughty

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Caitlin Doughty is a mortician, writer, and advocate for funeral industry reform. In 2011 she founded the non-profit The Order of the Good Death, which spawned the death positive movement and is working to legalize human composting and aquamation in all fifty states. Her educational documentaries as "Ask a Mortician" have been viewed over 250 million times and all three of her books– Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, From Here to Eternity, and Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs?– were New York Times bestsellers. She founded a Los Angeles funeral home, Clarity Funerals, and currently lives in upstate New York.

Caitlin began her life in death as a student at The University of Chicago, studying medieval history– a world of dancing skeletons and bodies buried in the walls of churches that felt vastly different from our modern view of corpses. Her thesis, entitled “In Our Image: The Suppression of Demonic Births in Late Medieval Witchcraft Theory,” is a must-read for all lovers of demon sex and the late medieval church.

After graduation, Caitlin moved to California and entered the funeral industry as a crematory operator (a year she would chronicle in her memoir Smoke Gets In Your Eyes.) She has remained in the industry, working as a body-van transport driver, a funeral director, and returning to Cypress College for her second degree in mortuary science– before opening her own small funeral home in Los Angeles is 2015.

The systemic problems in the funeral industry are obvious to anyone who has worked within it. Families are kept distant from the process, which itself is too expensive and negatively impactful on the environment. These issues led Caitlin to enter the advocacy space, founding the nonprofit death acceptance and funeral reform collective The Order of the Good Death, writing books, and creating videos and documentaries under the title Ask a Mortician. To learn more about her advocacy work, see here.

Caitlin’s work to change the death industry have led to features on National Public Radio, BBC, The New Yorker, Vice, The Atlantic, the New York Times, and Forbes. She frequently gives talks on the history of death culture, rituals, and the funeral industry for groups as diverse as TED, SXSW, The Upright Citizen’s Brigade, and universities and libraries all over the world.

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes and Other Lessons from the Crematory A New York Times Bestseller 

Armed with a degree in medieval history and a flair for the macabre, Caitlin Doughty took a job at a crematory and turned morbid curiosity into her life’s work. She cared for bodies of every color, shape, and affliction, and became an intrepid explorer in the world of the dead. In this best-selling memoir, brimming with gallows humor and vivid characters, she marvels at the gruesome history of undertaking and relates her unique coming-of-age story with bold curiosity and mordant wit. By turns hilarious, dark, and uplifting, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes reveals how the fear of dying warps our society and will make you reconsider how our culture treats the dead (San Francisco Chronicle).

HND Value Statement

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this Brave Conversation featuring Caitlin Doughty, do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities or Humanities North Dakota.

However, in an increasingly polarized world, we at Humanities North Dakota believe that being open-minded is necessary to thinking critically and rationally.

Therefore, our programs and classes reflect our own open-mindedness in the inquiry, seeking, and acquiring of scholars to speak at our events and teach classes for our Public University.

To that end, we encourage our participants to join us in stepping outside our comfort zones and considering other perspectives and ideas by being open-minded while attending HND events featuring scholars who hold a variety of opinions, some being opposite of our own held beliefs.

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