University of Memphis Magazine
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Spring 2010 Features


Saving Green
The right stride
Hall of enlightenment
Something to bank on
Soul power
Pools of courage

The Columns: Alumni Review
In the Green Zone

Professor's book climbs best-seller list

Rebecca Skloot
Rebecca Skloot
Rebecca Skloot, assistant professor of English in the College of Arts & Sciences, landed on The New York Times best-seller list for nine straight weeks with her debut book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. The book has reached as high as second on the Times’ nonfiction list, and third on Amazon’s best-seller list.

The book is about the Lacks family, innovations in science and bioethics. Henrietta Lacks was an impoverished, black tobacco farmer whose tumor-filled cervical cells were taken without her consent in 1951. Six months later, she died. Her cells, known as HeLa, are considered the foundation of modern science and provided breakthroughs in the polio vaccine, chemotherapy, cloning and in vitro fertilization. They also launched a multibillion-dollar industry, being the only human cells to survive indefinitely in a laboratory.

Skloot, director of the River City Writers Series, is on a four-month book tour. She has been featured on NPR and in The New York Times Book Review, Washington Post Book World, Time and Vogue.

“I knew two years ago that this would be a best seller,” said Richard Bausch, Moss Chair of Excellence in the English department. “Two reasons: the subject is important and is obviously strong material; it would sell well enough even in the hands of an ordinary writer. In the hands of a gifted writer like Becca, it simply could not miss best-sellerdom — tremendous subject wedded to wonderful writing. Also, she came in here and lighted this place up. She worked herself to near exhaustion for the students here and for the program. We had a terrific year of visits from Pulitzer Prize winners and literary best sellers, and publications from students. And she attracted very talented students — they came here because she was here. She’s a blazing talent.”

— by Sara Hoover

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