The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Rebecca Skloot,The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot best-selling author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks will visit Fayetteville for two days in October as part of the One Book, One Community project at the University of Arkansas.

“We are honored to have a writer of Rebecca Skloot’s caliber here on our campus,” said Kevin Fitzpatrick, co-chair of the One Book, One Community committee. “She already has an excellent reputation as a speaker who can present complicated and important issues in a way that is thought provoking and at the same time accessible to the public.”

More than 2,000 university students are reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks as part of One Book, One Community. It is required reading in all sections of freshman English composition courses, but is also being read in many other classes and groups across campus. This includes 62 Master of Arts in Teaching students and 14 faculty members and graduate assistants in the College of Education and Health Professions who are reading the book and discussing it in their weekly cohort meetings.

Skloot will speak to all of these readers during a question and answer session beginning at 12:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 21. Skloot will be in the Reynolds Center auditorium and a video link will connect her to two other on-campus locations, Willard J. Walker Hall and Giffels Auditorium in Old Main. The audience in Reynolds will be able to ask questions, while those in the other locations will be encouraged to send Twitter questions that will be relayed to her.

“We are expecting a great deal of interest in these appearances and we want as many people as possible to participate,” said David Jolliffe, who also co-chairs the committee. “We are planning to make use of all the technology at our command to make this an excellent experience for Ms. Skloot and her audience.”

Rebecca Skloot is a science writer living in Memphis. She has been published in a wide variety of magazines, covering topics that range from goldfish surgery to the wild dog packs of Manhattan. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is her first book. She spent more than 10 years researching and writing the book, which became an immediate best-seller after it was published last spring.

Skloot tells the story of Henrietta Lacks, a young African American woman who died of cervical cancer in 1951. The cancer cells were taken from her body, without her knowledge or permission, preserved, grown and studied in laboratories, where they became known as HeLa cells. Because these cells have the unique ability to continue replicating they have been widely used in medical research, and have been instrumental in a variety of medical breakthroughs and scientific advances. In fact, a University of Arkansas researcher is currently using HeLa cells to study the effectiveness and toxicity of drugs used to treat HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

HeLa cells are part of a multi-million dollar industry, but Henrietta Lacks’ family has never shared in any profits made directly from these cells; they didn’t even learn of the cells’ existence until decades after her death. In her book, and in her lectures, Skloot points out that Henrietta Lacks played a vital role in modern medicine and the biotech industry, but her children still can’t afford health insurance.

Rebecca Skloot is the founder and president of The Henrietta Lacks Foundation, which she created, in part, to raise funds to provide the Lacks family aid in covering the cost of health insurance. The foundation also hopes to offer assistance to other African Americans in need who are pursuing an education in science and medicine.