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April 19, 2011

Story of the Woman Behind Scientific Breakthroughs 2011 Summer Reading Assignment

1NORTHAMPTON, Mass. – Rebecca Skloot’s bestselling debut book, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” the product of more than a decade of research and writing, is the summer reading selection for incoming Smith College undergraduates.

The non-fiction work is a tale of medicine and family, of how life is sustained in laboratories and in memory.

Students will gather among their new housemates as part of orientation, Sept. 1 – 7, to discuss the book in sessions led by faculty members and administrators.

Henrietta Lacks was a poor African-American tobacco farmer whose cancerous 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 and in vitro fertilization.

Lacks’ cells – known as HeLa cells – have been bought and sold by the billions, yet she remains virtually unknown, and her family can’t afford health insurance. Skloot gathered the threads of these stories, and tells a story about bioethics, race relations and access to health care.

“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” has been named a best book of 2010 by more than 60 media outlets, including USA Today, O The Oprah Magazine, Los Angeles Times, People Magazine, New York Times, U.S. News and World Report and National Public Radio.

Skloot, named One of Five Surprising Leaders of 2010 by the Washington Post, is an award-winning science writer whose work has appeared in numerous 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.

The Smith community has invited Skloot to campus for a reading and book signing. Race, identity and research is also the theme for Otelia Cromwell Day, an annual slate of workshops, lectures, films and entertainment held to honor Smith's first African-American graduate.

Past summer reading selections have included:

2010: "Half the Sky" by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
2009: "The Green Collar Economy" by Van Jones
2008: "Native Guard" by Natasha Trethewey
2007: "Persepolis" by Marjane Satrapi
2006: "Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World" by Tracy Kidder
2005: "Kettle Bottom" by Diane Gilliam Fisher
2004: "The Gangster We Are All Looking For" by Lê Thi Diem Thúy
2003: "Atonement" by Ian McEwan
2002: "Nickel and Dimed" by Barbara Ehrenreich
2001: "The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down" by Anne Fadiman
2000: "My Year of Meats" by Ruth Ozeki


Office of College Relations
Smith College
Garrison Hall
Northampton, Massachusetts 01063

Kristen Cole
Media Relations Director
T (413) 585-2190

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