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