Rebecca Skloot’s Lecture

Hey everyone!

Sorry for the blogging hiatus. It’s gotten to that crazy time in the semester, and I have been slowly succumbing to what my friend Hilary Bowie has referred to as SBS or “Sweet Briar stress.” Tonight I took a break from Latin translating, paper writing for Philosophy of Religion, studying for a biology test, reading romantic poetry etc. to attend Rebecca Skloot‘s Lecture.

Rebecca Skloot is the bestselling author of this year’s common reading, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. If you’re not familiar with the book, it’s definitely a worthwhile read, as it raises a lot of important questions about bioethics. These are issues that we need to consider today to avoid making the mistakes of the past. The book, which is non-fiction, reads like a novel and tells the story of Henrietta Lacks, a poor black woman whose cancer cells were harvested without her consent. The cells, known as HeLa for the first two letters of Henrietta’s first and last name, became the first immortal cell line. They have been used in research labs all over the world enabling countless medical breakthroughs including the development of the polio vaccine and the creation of many chemotherapy drugs inflatable bouncer.

Today I was lucky enough to get to attend a Q & A with the author. One of the more interesting questions that Skloot answered was about her writing style; in particular scenes, she describes everything from the buildings to the weather outside, and one student was curious if that pointed to a fictionalization of the account (a technique which might have been employed to make the story come alive). However, according to Skloot, this is not the case, and she gave us a glimpse into the writing process as she described her intense research methods. First, she said she would talk to as many first person sources as possible and certain similarities in the stories would emerge. If people claimed it was raining, she would look up the date in the weather bureau’s records and verify that. If they claimed they had a Buick, she would find a picture of the car to verify the claim etc. Talking to Skloot definitely helped me appreciate the book more. Knowing that she read through hundreds of George Guy’s letters before she found a reference to Helen Lane just makes the work she has produced seem that more impressive.Fayetteville

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