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Join the One Book One Northwestern Party

A host of activities to celebrate, contemplate “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”

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October 17, 2011 | by Wendy Leopold
Photo by Teng Leong Chew.

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Care for a little biology with your supper? Get ready for provocative dinner discussions, a lecture with “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” author Rebecca Skloot, dramatic readings from her bestseller, a Q&A with Henrietta’s son and opportunities to view the stars of Skloot’s award-winning book -- the HeLa cells for which Henrietta Lacks today is famous. All are part of a jam-packed series of free One Book One Northwestern events.

Skloot’s runaway bestseller -- soon to be a movie on HBO -- tells the story of a poor black woman whose cells were taken without her knowledge in 1951 and later became one of the most important tools in medicine. Henrietta Lacks died of cancer on the “colored ward” of a Baltimore hospital and her family went without health insurance, but HeLa cells lived on to play a crucial role in medical research and spawned a multimillion-dollar industry. 

Below is a sampling of some of the many One Book programs taking place on and off campus that, like Skloot’s book, will evoke questions about biological research, medicine, race, ethics and family. For more events and schedule details, visit the One Book website at http://www.northwestern.edu/onebook/ or Plan-It Purple at http://planitpurple.northwestern.edu/ or call (847) 467-2294.

• Don’t miss a chance to see live HeLa cells at Northwestern’s state-of-the-art imaging facilities on the Chicago campus, at noon Tuesday, Oct. 18. Teng Leong Chew, director of Northwestern’s Cell Imaging Facility and of imaging resources, presents “HeLa: Up Close and Personal.” Chew will talk briefly about the history and impact of HeLa cells before presenting HeLa cells under four powerful microscopes. A similar event with Chew – and starring HeLa cells under a single microscope – will take place on the Evanston campus at 1 p.m. Friday, Oct. 21. A Feinberg School of Medicine cancer researcher, Chew created the colorful image of HeLa cells that is the One Book logo. 

• In “From the Page to the Stage,” School of Communication MFA in directing student David Prete will bring three scenes from Skloot’s book to life in a performance by theatre students at 4:30 on Wednesday, Oct. 19. “The chosen scenes represent the origin of the cell line to the best and worst repercussions HeLa cells had on the Lacks family,” says Prete.

• Share dinner at the Ver Steeg Lounge on the third floor of University Library, courtesy of the Center for Reproductive Science. Teresa K. Woodruff, Thomas J. Watkins Memorial Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and Laurie Zoloth, professor of medical humanities and bioethics and religion, will lead the discussion titled “An Immortal Life: Who Should Own Henrietta’s Cells” that takes place Thursday, Nov. 3, at 6:30 p.m.

• Enjoy a light supper and get a unique perspective on HeLa cells and Henrietta Lacks when sociology professors Steven Epstein, Gary Fine, Wendy Griswold and Celeste Watkins discuss “The Social Worlds of Henrietta Lacks” at Parkes Hall Tuesday, Nov. 8, from 6 to 7:30 p.m.

• Learn about the odyssey and personal challenges of the Lacks family during a Q&A with Henrietta’s son, David “Sonny” Lacks, Thursday, Nov. 17, at 7.p.m.  Evonda Thomas, director of the City of Evanston Health Department, will moderate the discussion in Harris Hall 107.

• In another dinner discussion hosted by the Center for Reproductive Science, Neena Schwartz, Professor Emerita of Neurobiology and Physiology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, and Sarah B. Rodriquez of Feinberg’s Medical Humanities and Bioethics Program will explore “Race, Gender and Medical Care.” The event takes place in the Wildcat Room of Norris University Center on Tuesday, Nov. 29, at 6 p.m.

• And don’t miss “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” author Skloot at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 26, when she talks on the Evanston campus about the making of the book and the people and issues in it.

Still hungry for knowledge? Visit One Book One Northwestern to sign up for news alerts of events on and off campus, join One Book on Facebook, and become part of the Immortal Art Project. The project is a community art activity that will culminate in the exhibition of a 40-foot scroll of initialed thumbprints that will be displayed at the Mary and Leigh Block Museum in the spring.