Author Rebecca Skloot Kicks Off 2010-11 Speaker Series

September 29, 2010

Author Rebecca Skloot Kicks Off 2010-11 Speaker SeriesAt least 220 listeners gathered in the Student Community Center at University Campus Tuesday evening to hear Rebecca Skloot, author of the current best seller The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. The nonfiction work tells the story of a young black mother whose cells were harvested, without her knowledge, while she was being treated for cancer in the early 1950s in Baltimore. Lacks died of the disease, leaving behind a family of young children, and a hardy line of cells that helped medical researchers develop numerous new drugs and medical treatments. The cell line is still in use. But the Lacks family struggled with financial hardship, illness, and a host of other problems while medical research and a new biomedical industry progressed.

Skloot read from the book and discussed the many ethical issues encompassed in the story. One question from the audience touched upon the sweep of the book and the many themes that emerged through the family’s story. “You can’t separate science and faith in this story, especially for the Lacks family,” Skloot said. Their faith helped Henrietta’s descendants open up to learning about science, which had previously had been foreign to them, Skloot said. She said the narrative also involves issues including access to education, poverty and class, race, unintended consequences of research, and the consequences that emerge when people are able to tell their life narratives.

More events are scheduled in 2011 as part of the University Speaker Series. The events are open to the public.