The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

AURORA, Colo. – The compelling story told in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks has been selected for the University of Colorado Denver l Anschutz Medical Campus inaugural Common Community R.E.A.D. (Research, Education, Activism, and Diversity) activity for students, staff and faculty.

Author Rebecca Skloot’s book introduces the reader to Henrietta Lacks. This poor black tobacco farmer is not widely known, but scientists know her as HeLa. Her cells were taken without her knowledge in 1951. Skloot describes how the results became one of the most important tools in medicine, vital for developing the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, and more. Henrietta’s cells have been bought and sold by the billions, yet she remains virtually unknown, and today her family can’t afford health insurance.

Soon to be made into an HBO movie by Oprah Winfrey and Alan Ball, this New York Times bestseller takes readers on an extraordinary journey, from the “colored” ward of Johns Hopkins Hospital in the 1950s to stark white laboratories with freezers filled with HeLa cells, from Henrietta’s small, dying hometown of Clover, Va., to East Baltimore today, where her children and grandchildren live and struggle with the legacy of her cells. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks tells the story of the collision between ethics, race, and medicine; of scientific discovery and faith healing; and of a daughter consumed with questions about the mother she never knew. It’s a story inextricably connected to the dark history of experimentation on African Americans, the birth of bioethics, and the legal battles over whether we control the stuff we’re made of.

The university Office of Diversity and Inclusion under the direction of Dominic Martinez selected the book for discussion during Black History Month in February.”It is very powerful because it can be considered from so many perspectives including science, ethics and sociology,” said Martinez.

The book is free to the first 100 participants at the university; however, by receiving a free book you agree to participate in book club-style meeting during the weeks of Feb. 6-10 and Feb. 20-24.

“Not only will you have the opportunity to read a great piece of literature, you will connect with others on both the CU Denver campuses, developing a stronger community for all of us,” said Martinez.

View more more information on the book and the author >

Question about the Common Community R.E.A.D., please contact either:

This university program is being supported by:

  • The Anschutz Medical Campus Faculty and Staff Multicultural Affairs Committee
  • The Anschutz Medical Campus Office of Diversity and Inclusion

Funding is being provided by:

  • The President’s Fund for Faculty and Staff Development and Support
  • The President’s Fund for the Support of Student Diversity
  • The Anschutz Medical Campus Office of Diversity and Inclusion


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