The Farquhar College of Arts and Sciences welcomed author Rebecca Skloot, M.F.A., to Nova Southeastern University as part of the college's 2013-2014 Distinguished Speakers Series on Thursday, March 20, 2014
As a student, Skloot was on an uncertain path until a community college biology instructor uttered the words "Henrietta Lacks." With a renewed focus, Skloot set off on a 10-year journey that would eventually shine the national spotlight on her book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and the poor tobacco farmer for whom the book is named.
In her bestselling book, Skloot tells the true story of a young black woman who died of cervical cancer in 1951-and left behind an inexplicably immortal line of cells known as HeLa. Henrietta Lacks's cells were harvested without her knowledge, but then lived on to contribute to scientific advancements including the polio vaccine, treatments for cancers and viruses, in-vitro fertilization, and the impact of space travel on human cells. Skloot's book is also about Lacks's children, who were later used in research without their consent and who've never benefited from the commercialization of HeLa cells, though the cells have helped biotech companies make millions of dollars. Part real-life detective story, part scientific odyssey, and part family saga, The Immortal Life raises questions about race, class, and bioethics in America.
The book was selected as a best book of 2010 by more than 60 media outlets, including The New York Times; Entertainment Weekly; American Library Association; People; Washington Post Book World; O, The Oprah Magazine; and The Boston Globe. It has enjoyed more than three years on the New York Times bestseller list and is being made into an HBO film produced by Oprah Winfrey and Alan Ball.
Recognizable for its straightforward language, Skloot's writing has engaged readers around the world. She has written more than 200 feature articles, personal essays, book reviews, and news stories for The New York Times Magazine; O, The Oprah Magazine; Discover; Columbia Journalism Review; Seed; New York Magazine; Slate; Popular Science; Chicago Tribune; and other publications. Her work has been anthologized in several collections, including Best Food Writing and The Best Creative Nonfiction. She is co-editor of The Best American Science Writing 2011.
Skloot's lectures and interviews are known to make complex issues more accessible to diverse audiences. She has appeared on numerous television and radio shows, including The Colbert Report, CBS Sunday Morning, and National Public Radio programs Fresh Air and Talk of the Nation, and has worked as a correspondent for NPR's Radiolab and PBS's Nova ScienceNOW. Skloot was named one of five Surprising Leaders of 2010 by The Washington Post.
Skloot has a B.S. in Biological Sciences and an M.F.A. in Creative Nonfiction. She has taught creative writing and science journalism at the University of Memphis, the University of Pittsburgh, and New York University. She is founder and president of the Henrietta Lacks Foundation. Skloot is currently working on a new book about the human-animal bond from her home in Chicago, and remains in close contact with the Lacks family.
As part of the college mission to prepare students for rich professional careers and active citizenship, the college frames co-curricular programs and experiences around a broad annual academic theme that unites our community in interdisciplinary exploration. The academic theme for the 2013-2014 school year is "Good and Evil." Skloot spoke on this theme. For more information on the Distinguished Speakers Series, contact the Office of the Dean at (954) 262-8236.