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Author of book chronicling Clover woman’s life coming to town

Best-selling author Rebecca Skloot will be speaking at The Prizery on Sunday.

The talk, sponsored by the Friends of the Library and made possible through other local donations, will be held at 3 p.m. in the Chastain Theater and is open to the general public free of charge.

Skloot’s book, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” soon to be made into a movie produced by Oprah Winfrey and Allan Ball, rapidly earned a place on The New York Times bestseller list.

Skloot has appeared on ABC World News, CBS Sunday Morning, Fox Business News, The Colbert Report and other shows to discuss the book.

Henrietta Lacks, a descendant of slaves, entered the “colored” wing of the Johns Hopkins Medical Center to be treated for cervical cancer in 1950.

Without her consent, common practice at the time, her biopsied cells were taken and cultured, and although Henrietta died eight months later, her cells lived on and on and on.

Those very cells that killed her, now known as HeLa, became one of the most important tools in the history of medical research.
Until the 1970s, the Lacks family remained unaware of Henrietta’s legacy. HeLa cells — Henrietta’s cells — launched a multimillion-dollar market in human biological material, spawned innumerable scientific studies and are the cells upon which modern day virology and biotechnology are built.

Skloot spent 10 years researching and writing her book, traveling from state-of-the-art medical research facilities to Henrietta’s childhood home in the small Halifax County town of Clover, working to unravel the story of Henrietta’s life and that of her miraculous cells.

Skloot’s book brings together the dual stories of the Lacks family and the HeLa cells.

Medical ethics then and now are given close scrutiny, as well as the parts played by issues of race and poverty.

“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” has been named a finalist for the 2010 Wellcome Trust Book Prize, the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s 2010 award for Excellence in Science Books, in the young adult category and is being taught widely in high schools.

Skloot is an award-winning science writer whose articles have appeared in “The New York Times Magazine;” “O, The Oprah Magazine;” “Discover;” “Columbia Journalism Review;” and elsewhere. 

She is a contributing editor for Popular Science magazine and has also been a correspondent for NPR and PBS.

A former vice president of the National Book Critics Circle, she was on the faculty at the University of Memphis, where she taught creative writing and science journalism, and she blogs at Culture Dish, hosted by Seed Magazine’s science blogs.
Skloot has an undergraduate degree in biological sciences from Colorado State University and an MFA in creative nonfiction writing from the University of Pittsburgh.

She currently lives in Chicago, occasionally escaping to write in the hills of West Virginia.

A book signing will follow the talk, with copies of the book available for purchase onsite ($23 cash or check only).

A clinical trials expert, Mary Beth Tombes, R.N., M.N., from the Massey Cancer Center also will be available to answer questions.