About The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The Book

book cover

Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor black tobacco farmer whose cells—taken without her knowledge in 1951—became one of the most important tools in medicine, vital for developing the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, and more. Henrietta’s cells have been bought and sold by the billions, yet she remains virtually unknown, and her family can’t afford health insurance.

Soon to be made into an HBO movie by Oprah Winfrey and Alan Ball, this New York Times bestseller takes readers on an extraordinary journey, from the “colored” ward of Johns Hopkins Hospital in the 1950s to stark white laboratories with freezers filled with HeLa cells, from Henrietta’s small, dying hometown of Clover, Virginia, to East Baltimore today, where her children and grandchildren live and struggle with the legacy of her cells. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks tells a riveting story of the collision between ethics, race, and medicine; of scientific discovery and faith healing; and of a daughter consumed with questions about the mother she never knew. It’s a story inextricably connected to the dark history of experimentation on African Americans, the birth of bioethics, and the legal battles over whether we control the stuff we’re made of.

Winner of several awards, including the 2010 Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize for Nonfiction, the 2010 Wellcome Trust Book Prize, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science's Award for Excellence in Science Writing, the 2011 Audie Award for Best Non-Fiction Audiobook, and a Medical Journalists' Association Open Book Award, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks was featured on over 60 critics' best of the year lists. For more reviews, praise, and media coverage of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, please visit the book's press page.
--From the book's website

The Author

rebecca skloot

Rebecca is an alum of PCC and one of
50 winners of the PCC Diamond Alum Award,
in honor of the college's 50th Anniversary.

Rebecca Skloot is an award winning science writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine; O, The Oprah Magazine; Discover; and many other publications. She specializes in narrative science writing and has explored a wide range of topics, including goldfish surgery, tissue ownership rights, race and medicine, food politics, and packs of wild dogs in Manhattan. She has worked as a correspondent for WNYC's Radiolab and PBS's Nova ScienceNOW. She and her father, Floyd Skloot, are co-editors of The Best American Science Writing 2011. You can read a selection of Rebecca Skloot's magazine writing on the Articles page of this site.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Skloot's debut book, took more than a decade to research and write, and instantly became a New York Times best-seller. Skloot is the founder and president of The Henrietta Lacks Foundation, which has been featured in the New York Times. She has a B.S. in biological sciences and an MFA in creative nonfiction. She financed her degrees by working in emergency rooms, neurology labs, veterinary morgues and martini bars. She has taught creative writing and science journalism at the University of Memphis, the University of Pittsburgh, and New York University. She currently gives talks on subjects ranging from bioethics to book proposals at conferences and universities nationwide.
--From the book's website