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University of Central Missouri
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Warrensburg, MO 64093
Phone: 660-543-4640
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Common Reader Author Introduces UCM to 'Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks'

Contact: Jeff Murphy
WARRENSBURG, MO (Oct. 31, 2014)- Rebecca Skloot, author of "The New York Times" No. 1 best-selling book, "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks," will introduce the University of Central Missouri community to the inspiring real life story of a 31-year-old woman who, through her illness, unknowing contributed to medical research that is continuing long after her death in 1951.

Rebecca Skloot
Rebecca Skloot

Skloot, whose book also raises questions about ethics, race and research for progress, will present a free public presentation at 11 a.m. Wednesday, Nov. 12, in Hendricks Hall. Her visit to campus is a highlight of UCM's Fall 2014 One Campus, One Book Common Reader program. The program, "The Story of a Woman Named Henrietta Lacks and a Cell Named HeLa," is sponsored by Lifelong Learning at UCM; American Democracy Project; Office of Student Experience and Engagement; UCM's Department of English and Philosophy; Pleiades Visitors Writing Series; Trails Regional Library; and the UCM Center for Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies.

Specializing in narrative science, Skloot's investigative writing has explored topics ranging from goldfish surgery, tissue ownership rights, and race and medicine to food politics and studying packs of wild dogs in Manhattan, N.Y. She has served as a correspondent for WNYC's "Radiolab" and PBS' Nova "ScienceNow," in addition to contributing science works that have appeared in "The New York Times Magazine"; "O' The Oprah Magazine"; and "Discover," just to name a few.

Her award-winning debut book, "The Immortal life of Henrietta Lacks," took her more than 10 years to research and write, and has been on the" The New York Times" best-seller list since it was published in 2010. Upon its release, her work earned accolades as a "best book" from 60 different media outlets, including the "Colbert Report," "Washington Post," "People Magazine," "U.S. News & World Report," and many others. named it one of the "100 Books to Read in a Lifetime" and Barnes and Noble declared it a "Discover Great Writers Pick."

In the "Immortal Life," Skloot tells the story of Henrietta Lacks, a poor African American tobacco farmer, and what happens after she developed cancer, and her cells were cultured and used for scientific research without her permission. The cells, known by medical researchers as HeLa - named from the first two letters of Lacks' first and last names - took on a life of their own after researchers discovered they could keep the cells alive and grow, unlike any other cells they had encountered at the time. Such qualities enabled medical scientists to start a new cell line that today continues to be used for research. Since Lacks' death in 2010, HeLa cells have been shared with labs all over the world, and they have contributed to thousands of scientific studies. They were vital to developing the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, and many other discoveries.

In "The Immortal Life," Skloot examines issues from the scientists' perspective, but shares with readers the challenges Lacks' family members faced trying to come to grips with the emotional ordeal that followed the death of their loved one and the discovery that Lacks' cells were being used without their knowledge. It examines such issues as ethics law related to tissue collections, how the family's privacy was violated by journalists who published Lacks' medical records and the family's genetic information.

Skloot's appearance at UCM is underwritten and made possible by the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences; Department of History and Anthropology; and Department of Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies. She becomes the second person to speak on campus as part of Common Reader program, which was initiated in fall 2013. Jonathan Gottschall, author of "The Storytelling Animal" was the first speaker in the program.

Individuals are encouraged to read Skloot's book, "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks," prior to her presentation at UCM. The book also is being read by students in literature and composition courses this semester. It can be purchased at the University Store on the lower level of the Elliott Student Union, and is available in area bookstores and at popular retail websites where books are sold.

Learn more about the One Campus, One Book program at