Common Read

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

About the Author

Rebecca Skloot is the author of the #1 New York Times Bestseller, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, which was made into an Emmy Nominated HBO film starring Oprah Winfrey as Deborah Lacks, Renee Elise Goldsberry as Henrietta Lacks, and Rose Byrne as Rebecca Skloot. Her award winning science writing has appeared in The New York Times Magazine; O, The Oprah Magazine, and many other publications. She specializes in narrative science writing and has explored a wide range of topics, including goldfish surgery, tissue ownership rights, race and medicine, food politics, and packs of wild dogs in Manhattan. She has worked as a correspondent for WNYC’s Radiolab and PBS’s Nova ScienceNOW. She and her father, Floyd Skloot, co-edited The Best American Science Writing 2011.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Skloot’s debut book, took more than a decade to research and write, and instantly hit the New York Times best-seller list, where it has remained for more than seven years since its publication. She has been featured on numerous television shows, including CBS Sunday Morning, The Colbert Report, and others, and was named One of Five Surprising Leaders of 2010 by the Washington Post. The Immortal Life was chosen as a best book of 2010 by more than 60 media outlets, including Entertainment Weekly, National Public Radio, People Magazine, and The New York Times; it was named The Best Book of 2010 and one of the 100 Books to Read In a Lifetime by Amazon.com, and a Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers Pick. It was translated into 25 languages and won numerous awards, including the National Academies of Science Best Book of the Year award.

Skloot is the founder and president of The Henrietta Lacks Foundation, which has been featured in the New York Times. She has a B.S. in biological sciences and an MFA in creative nonfiction. She financed her degrees by working in emergency rooms, neurology labs, veterinary morgues and martini bars. She has taught creative writing and science journalism at the University of California Berkeley, New York University, University of Memphis, and the University of Pittsburgh.

Skloot lives in Oakland, California, where she is currently working on a new book about humans, animals, science, and ethics, a topic near and dear to her: before becoming a science writer, Skloot spent more than a decade working as a veterinary technician in settings ranging from animal shelters to private practices, veterinary schools and research labs.

About the Book

Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor black tobacco farmer whose cells—taken without her knowledge in 1951—became one of the most important tools in medicine, vital for developing the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, and more. Henrietta’s cells have been bought and sold by the billions, yet she remains virtually unknown, and her family can’t afford health insurance.

Henrietta’s story was made into an HBO movie by Oprah Winfrey and Alan Ball, this New York Times bestseller takes readers on an extraordinary journey, from the “colored” ward of Johns Hopkins Hospital in the 1950s to stark white laboratories with freezers filled with HeLa cells, from Henrietta’s small, dying hometown of Clover, Virginia, to East Baltimore today, where her children and grandchildren live and struggle with the legacy of her cells. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks tells a riveting story of the collision between ethics, race, and medicine; of scientific discovery and faith healing; and of a daughter consumed with questions about the mother she never knew. It’s a story inextricably connected to the dark history of experimentation on African Americans, the birth of bioethics, and the legal battles over whether we control the stuff we’re made of.

Winner of several awards, including the 2010 Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize for Nonfiction, the 2010 Wellcome Trust Book Prize, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Award for Excellence in Science Writing, the 2011 Audie Award for Best Non-Fiction Audiobook, and a Medical Journalists’ Association Open Book Award, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks was featured on over 60 critics’ best of the year lists.