Frequently Asked Questions
- Why should I read this book?
- How can I participate in the Common Reading Experience if I’m not a first-year student? How can I get a copy of the book?
- Who was Henrietta Lacks?
- Why is the story of Henrietta Lacks so important?
- Where is Henrietta’s family today, and how have they reacted to the book?
- What messages should be taken from the story?
Why should I read this book?
It is important that you and others read this book. It addresses real issues on ethical decision making and medical advances through research. You will learn how these issues impact the advancement of our global society. As the author states, this book “brings together many disparate fields…and allows them to explore the real-world consequences of intellectual discoveries…bringing together health, community, family, ethics, religion, science, storytelling, history, business, law, and humanity.”
How can I participate in the Common Reading Experience if I’m not a first-year student? How can I get a copy of the book?
While the Common Reading Experience engages the incoming first-year students, participation from all other students and members of the university community is welcome. Other faculty will integrate parts of the book and its issues into their classes. Both undergraduate and graduate students are encouraged to participate and can attend the public events and join in the discussion across campus. You can purchase a copy of the book at the USF Bookstore. Additional copies are available from the USF Library in paperback and e-book editions.
Who was Henrietta Lacks?
Henrietta Lacks was a poor, southern African American tobacco farmer who was diagnosed with cervical cancer in the early 1950s. During her time in the hospital, samples of her cells were taken without her knowledge. These cells, known as HeLa cells, became the first human cells grown in a lab and kept alive outside the body. Even though Henrietta died in 1951, her cells are alive and continue to grow today.
Why is the story of Henrietta Lacks so important?
Although Henrietta lived many years ago, her story still lives on today. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks explores issues of race, class, science, ethics, human culture and the importance of education and research. The challenges faced by Henrietta and her family are still present in our society today. While HeLa cells were at the heart of some of the most progressive medical discoveries, they brought a lot of pain and suffering to the Lacks family. This book calls into question many current medical practices and will challenge students to see the story from all angles.
Where is Henrietta’s family today, and how have they reacted to the book?
According to the author, Rebecca Skloot, the Lacks family has embraced the book. Upon the book’s initial release, they would attend public events with Skloot and now they also travel and give talks of their own (Skloot). To see where members of the Lacks family are speaking currently, you may visit their website and follow them on Facebook and Twitter.
What messages should be taken from the story?
There are several messages that can be taken from the book, but that will depend on the interpretations of each individual reader. The most prevalent messages surround the issues of trust, race, medicine, human subject research, social standing and education. Rebecca Skloot also points out that beyond the science and ethical questions lies a story about a family who is impacted by the loss of their mother (Skloot).