Immortality and cells define lecture

When the doors to Ira Allen Chapel opened the evening of Tuesday, Oct. 11, a crowd gathered to claim the last of the nearly sold-out tickets at the Rebecca Skloot lecture, titled An Evening with Rebecca Skloot and “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” which was followed by a book signing in Billings Library. The administration had originally planned for her to speak at the University’s convocation ceremonies, which were cancelled due to Tropical Storm Irene, Honors College Dean Abu Rizvi said. Skloot was introduced by Provost Jane Knodell. Knodell described the plot of the book and explained how the University had chosen it for their incoming first-year summer reading program as well as the Honors College summer reading program. Skloot’s narrative nonfiction book, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” is about an African American woman whose cells, which later became the building blocks for many of the modern medical and cancer treatments, were taken from her by Johns Hopkins University after she died of cervical cancer in 1951, Knodell said. Skloot spoke about how and when she decided to become a science writer. “At 16, I was sitting with a bored look on my face, in a community college lecture when my professor first mentioned Henrietta Lacks,” Skloot said. “I wanted to know more.” Skloot said she originally wanted to be a veterinarian, but after taking a creative writing course she decided that she might have a passion for something else. “The creative writing class taught me that you can take something you really care about and make people care about it too,” Skloot said. Her biggest inspiration and the factor that kept her going throughout the more than 10-year process was Deborah, Henrietta’s daughter. “She was the only one with the information and she felt she had a duty to get it published,” Skloot said. She was asked a number of questions at the end of the lecture and concluded by saying, “I hope you’ll all let your passion and curiosity get the best of you here.” Some students were inspired to pick up the Skloot’s book following her lecture. “I thought it was really interesting,” junior Kristen McColgan said. “I haven’t read the book yet but now I definitely want to. I loved how she made the point about how HeLa cells can relate to everyone.”