Posts Tagged ‘Henrietta Lacks’

Press Release: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Paperback) by Rebecca Skloot

April 11th, 2011


Contact: Penny Simon











Amazon Best Book of the Year • New York Times Notable Book • New Yorker Reviewers’ Favorite •

Entertainment Weekly #1 Nonfiction Book of the Year • American Library Association Notable Book •

People Top Ten Book of the Year • Washington Post Book World Top Ten Book of the Year • Best Book of the Year • USA Today Ten Books We Loved Reading • Bloomberg Top Nonfiction • Kirkus Reviews Best Nonfiction Book of the Year • Discover magazine 2010 Must-Read •

O, The Oprah Magazine Top Ten Book of the Year • National Public Radio Best of the Bestsellers • Boston Globe Best Nonfiction Book of the Year • U.S. News & World Report Top Debate-Worthy Book • Financial Times Nonfiction Favorite • Los Angeles Times Critics’ Pick • Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year • New York magazine Top Ten Book of the Year • Favorite Book of the Year • Top Ten Book of the Year • Library Journal Top Ten Book of the Year •

Booklist Top of the List—Best Nonfiction Book


—Also featured on more than 40 other “Best of the Year” lists—



• • • • •

After nearly one year on the New York Times bestseller list (and counting), the widely heralded THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS by Rebecca Skloot will be published in paperback on March 8, 2011, by Broadway Paperbacks. It tells the rich, enthralling story of Henrietta Lacks, the forgotten woman behind one of the most important tools in modern medicine, and of Lacks’s descendants, many of whom feel betrayed by the scientific establishment.


Since the book was published in hardcover, it has enjoyed not only tremendous commercial success but has also had a significant and rarely seen impact on how scientists and medical researchers approach their work; how doctors interact with their patients; how courts rule in legal cases involving tissue samples taken without informed consent; discussions of future policy changes; and of course the Lacks family itself. Skloot has established a foundation ( that began awarding grants in August 2010, among them tuition and books for five of Henrietta’s descendants, and assistance with health-care expenses for many of them. Further, THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS won the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize and the Wellcome Trust Book Prize, and is being translated into more than twenty-five languages and adapted into a young-adult edition. It has also been adopted by hundreds of high schools and universities as part of their curriculums. Oprah Winfrey and Alan Ball are producing the film version for HBO.


Born in 1920 in Clover, Virginia, Henrietta Lacks was a poor tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors. In 1951, she developed a strangely aggressive cancer, and doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital took a tissue sample without her knowledge. She died without knowing that her cells would become immortal—the first to grow and survive indefinitely in culture. HeLa cells, as they are called, were essential in developing the polio vaccine. They have aided in the development of in-vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping, and have helped us to better understand the workings of cancer and innumerable viruses. Even today, HeLa is the most widely used cell line in labs worldwide, bought and sold by the billions. If you could pile all HeLa cells ever grown onto a scale, they would weigh more than fifty million metric tons—more than a hundred Empire State Buildings.


After learning about the HeLa cell line in high school, Rebecca Skloot became consumed by curiosity about the woman behind the cells. During the decade it took her to chase down and chronicle this remarkable story, she journeyed from state-of-the-art scientific laboratories to the tobacco fields of southern Virginia to East Baltimore, where the Lacks family lives today. She spent years winning the trust of Henrietta’s daughter Deborah, who longed to know more about her mother and to better understand the science behind her cells, which often seemed more like science fiction. With this book, we too become immersed in the story of the Lacks family, and are shocked to discover that Henrietta’s husband and children did not find out about her “immortality,” or the enormous profits her cells had generated, until more than twenty years after her death, when scientists investigating HeLa began using blood samples from her family in research without informed consent. The family had grown up surrounded by preaching, faith healing, and voodoo; suddenly they were plunged into a world of arcane-sounding science, wrestling with feelings of pride, betrayal, and fear. While biotech companies had made millions selling HeLa, many of Henrietta’s descendants could not even afford health insurance.


In THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS, Rebecca Skloot brilliantly weaves together the Lackses’ story—past and present—with the story of the first culturing of HeLa cells, the dark history of experimentation on African Americans, and the birth of bioethics. A combination of investigative reporting, crystalline science writing, and riveting narrative, the book leaves as indelible an impression as Henrietta’s cells.



REBECCA SKLOOT is an award-winning science writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine; O, The Oprah Magazine; Discover; and many others. She is coeditor of The Best American Science Writing 2011 and has worked as a correspondent for NPR’s Radiolab and PBS’s Nova ScienceNOW. She was named one of five surprising leaders of 2010 by the Washington Post. Skloot’s debut book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, took more than a decade to research and write, and instantly became a New York Times bestseller. It was chosen as a best book of 2010 by more than sixty media outlets, including Entertainment Weekly, People, and the New York Times. It is being translated into more than twenty-five languages, adapted into a young reader edition, and being made into an HBO film produced by Oprah Winfrey and Alan Ball. Skloot is the founder and president of The Henrietta Lacks Foundation. She has a B.S. in biological sciences and an MFA in creative nonfiction. She has taught creative writing and science journalism at the University of Memphis, the University of Pittsburgh, and New York University. She lives in Chicago. For more information, visit her website at, where you’ll find links to follow her on Twitter and Facebook.





By Rebecca Skloot

Broadway Paperbacks • On-sale date: March 8, 2011 • ISBN 978-1-4000-5218-9  • Price: $16.00

The Crown Publishing Group