Hiram College

Rebecca Skloot, author of “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” shared the story of Henrietta Lacks, the woman behind the immortal HeLa cell line, with the Hiram College campus on March 15, 2010. Skloot read passages from her book and then gave the audience a chance to ask questions.

She spoke about how Lacks found the tumor and about what the doctors who treated her thought of the tumor. It was something the doctors had never seen before, and something that most scientists today still have not encountered again. Science still is not sure how or why these cells continue to grow at such large rates, though there is some speculation about the types of HPV virus and syphillus and the combination of them both that may have contributed to the continued growth and to Henrietta’s rapid decline. It has been estimated that all of the HeLa cells currently on earth could wrap around the earth three or more times.

Skloot also explained the Lacks’ family’s feelings toward the situation and how miscommunication after miscommunication led the family to feelings of resentment toward any outsider asking about Henrietta. Skloot also explained that her book, and the long process of writing it, seems to have helped the Lacks family understand more about what happened to Henrietta’s cells and what they have been used for.

Skloot enchanted the approximately 150 faculty, students, staff and community that attended her lecture. She has been the subject of numerous articles, profiles and interviews on television and radio and in various magazines and newspapers—from National Public Radio (NPR) to ABC and CBS News to “Rapportage” to the “Baltimore City Paper.” She 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 is on the faculty at the University of Memphis, where she teaches creative nonfiction, and she blogs at Culture Dish, hosted by “Seed Magazine’s” science blogs. Skloot has an undergraduate degree in biomedical science from Colorado State University and an MFA in nonfiction writing from the University of Pittsburgh. She lives in Memphis, Tennessee.

More information about Rebecca Skloot and “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” can be found on her Web site.

Skloot’s visit was part of an on-going seminar series presented by Hiram College’s Center for Literature, Medicine and Biomedical Humanities. The next speaker in the series will be Danielle Ofri, author of “Medicine in Translation: Journeys with my Patients.” Ofri will speak about her experiences on April 28, 2010, at 7 p.m. in the Kennedy Center Ballroom.

The mission of the Center is, through literary works, to examine thoroughly questions of human values in health care contexts – and to do so within clinical settings, medical and other health professional schools, and the liberal arts environment. To learn more about the Center, visit its Web site.

To view photos from the event, click here.