Henrietta Lacks left one of the world’s most important legacies when she died of cervical cancer in 1951. She left behind the first immortal line of cells, known as HeLa, which were collected without her knowledge or consent. These cells contributed to scientific advancements as varied as the polio vaccine, treatments for cancers and viruses, in-vitro fertilization, and the impact of space travel on human cells.
Over 10 years, Rebecca Skloot researched and wrote The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, which investigates the personal stories, family history, and scientific implications surrounding HeLa cells. The Immortal Life raises questions about race, class, and bioethics in America.
Skloot, a Colorado State University biological sciences alumna, will discuss these topics and more during her Murray Honors Lecture on Nov. 10 at 4:00 p.m. The event will be conducted via Zoom and is free and open to the public. Skloot will be joined by John Calderazzo, a professor in the Department of English.
John Calderazzo recently retired from the CSU English Department, where he was honored as a Best CSU Teacher. He established the department’s undergraduate creative nonfiction courses and co-founded the MFA Nonfiction Program. He’s also taught scientists to communicate with the public through story telling. With his colleague SueEllen Campbell, he created an innovative climate change discussion program, Changing Climates @ CSU, involving nearly every department at the University. His writing has appeared in magazines such as Audubon, Georgia Review, High Country News, and Orion. He’s published a freelance-writing guide; a children’s science book, 101 Questions about Volcanoes; and Rising Fire: Volcanoes & Our Inner Lives. He’s won a Colorado Arts Council Fellowship, and a Traveler’s Tales Gold Medal for an essay about Buddhism and mountains in Bhutan. His work has appeared in Best American Nature Writing, Best Travel Adventure Stories, and Copper Canyon Press’s 2019 Here: Poems for the Planet. He’s just published his first poetry collection, The Exact Weight of the Soul, which draws on his continuing passions for the humanities and the sciences.
Calderazzo was Skloot’s writing professor at CSU when she realized she wanted to become a writer. She started writing the stories that are now becoming her second book in John’s writing classes.
The Immortal Life, Skloot’s debut book, spent over seven years on the nonfiction and science New York Times bestseller lists, and has sold almost 3 million copies. It has been translated into more than 25 languages and adapted for the screen by HBO and Oprah. It was also chosen as the best book of 2010 by more than 60 media outlets, including Entertainment Weekly, People, and The New York Times.
Skloot is an award-winning journalist and science writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, O, The Oprah Magazine, Discover, and many others. She was the co-editor of The Best American Science Writing 2011 and has worked as a correspondent for NPR’s Radiolab and PBS’s Nova ScienceNOW. She has taught creative writing and science journalism at the University of Memphis, the University of Pittsburgh, New York University, and UC Berkeley. She is currently at work on a new book about the human-animal relationship. The Murray Honors Visiting Scholar series is co-hosted by the Colorado State University Honors Program and the College of Natural Sciences. It is made possible by a generous gift from Jack and Nadine Murray. Skloot is the fifth Murray Honors Visiting Scholar. Previous talks have been delivered by Carl Zimmer, Karolin Luger, Joan Steitz, and Carol Greider.
Skloot is now working on her second book, this one about our complex relationships with animals — their roles in our lives, and in science — and the humans who battle over their fates, and as a result, our own.