CSU, Chico News

Author of ‘The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks’ Will Speak April 22

Date: 04-16-2010

Joe Wills
Public Affairs
Troy Jollimore
Philosophy and Humanities Center

Rebecca Skloot, guest of the Department of Philosophy and the Humanities Center, California State University, Chico, will talk about her first book, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” on Thursday, April 22, 7:30 p.m. in Ayres 120.

Skloot is a science writer who investigated the case of Henrietta Lack for more than 10 years to write the story of how Lack’s cells became one of the most important tools in medicine. Lacks was a poverty-stricken mother of five in Baltimore who died from cancer in 1951. A sample of her tissue, taken without her consent, gave rise to so called “HeLa cells”— cells whose incredible reproductive potency gave scientists a building block for countless breakthroughs, beginning with the cure for polio, and which continue to be used today.

Meanwhile, Lacks’s family continued to live in poverty and frequently poor health, quite unaware of Henrietta’s hugely significant legacy.

“Honestly, I can’t imagine a better tale. A detective story that’s at once mythically large and painfully intimate,” said Jad Abumrad of NPR’s “Radiolab.” A review in The New Yorker had this to say about “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”: “This extraordinary account shows us that miracle workers, believers, and con artists populate hospitals as well as churches, and that even a science writer may find herself playing a central role in someone else’s mythology.”

Skloot’s work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine; O, The Oprah Magazine; Discover; Columbia Journalism Review; and many other publications. She is also a contributing editor at Popular Science magazine and has worked as a correspondent for NPR’s “Radiolab” and PBS’s “Nova ScienceNOW.” She served for eight years on the Board of Directors of the National Book Critics Circle, where she was a vice president and judge for their yearly book awards. In 2006, she launched Critical Mass, the blog of the National Book Critics Circle. She now blogs at Culture Dish, hosted by Seed Magazine.

The event is free and open to the public. A reception follows in the Humanities Center.