People

Renowned Author Rebecca Skloot Speaks at Houston Public Library Foundation Luncheon


By Shanley Pierce | April 14, 2017

The Houston Public Library Foundation hosted Wednesday its annual benefit luncheon, Beyond the Page, featuring keynote speaker New York Times best-selling author Rebecca Skloot.

Skloot’s highly acclaimed book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, is centered around Henrietta Lacks and her immortal cell line, dubbed “HeLa cells,” that scientists at Johns Hopkins Hospital extracted from her without her knowledge in 1951, and explores ethical issues related to race and socioeconomics in medical research. Her cells revolutionized modern medicine and have been used extensively in scientific research. They contributed to the development of the polio vaccine, cancer research, AIDS research and gene mapping.

During the event, Skloot discussed the important role of libraries in the community and, especially, in her research for the book.

“Right now, libraries and a lot of institutions are facing some really big budget cuts, and I think it’s not always obvious to people how libraries make things like this [book] possible,” Skloot said. “I knew how important librarians were to writers in different ways. When I work on a story, the first thing I do is go find a librarian wherever I need to be, because they not only know the people and the history, but they also have databases. Their job is to help look for information. Librarians are sort of my favorite people.”

Skloot tracked down and called Henrietta Lacks’ daughter, Deborah, who was a toddler when Lacks died. She realized from the first phone call that Deborah was interested in the idea of a book being written about her mother, and wanted to know who her mother was. It was an exciting yet terrifying notion for Deborah, Skloot said. To connect with Deborah, Skloot had to earn her trust.

“Part of how I won her trust was I went and tried to find as much as I could about Henrietta,” Skloot said. “I went to Clover, Virginia, this tiny town where Henrietta grew up, and the first place I went was the local library in South Boston, Virginia.”

The librarian showed her personal handwritten notes and pieces of paper from the 1900s that had “some of the most incredible narrative history” making it possible for Skloot to bring Henrietta to life, she said. She used everything the librarian was able to provide and incorporated those details into her book.

“Those scenes of Henrietta bouncing that baby and what the town looked like, that was stuff librarians helped me put together without knowing that’s what they were doing,” Skloot said.

In addition to the crucial role librarians serve in providing information, libraries also make books available, accessible and free to the community.

“Plenty of people can go to bookstores and buy a book, but a lot of people can’t,” she added. “Libraries all around the world held discussion groups about the book. They provided it to people who couldn’t get access, which would have included the Lacks family.”

Since it was originally published in 2010, Skloot’s book has sold more than 2.5 million copies and spent more than 75 weeks on The New York Times’ best-seller list. It was recently turned into an HBO film, starring Oprah Winfrey and Rose Byrne, and will premiere April 22.




Social Posts

profile_image

Houston Methodist

@MethodistHosp

@VillageVikings It was our pleasure. Thanks for sharing the photo. ^SF

9 hours ago
profile_image

Houston Methodist

@MethodistHosp

@m_evangelo Thanks for sharing ^SF

9 hours ago
profile_image

Houston Methodist

@MethodistHosp

@WolframJoy Thanks for sharing ^SF

9 hours ago
profile_image

Memorial Hermann

@memorialhermann

Here’s a list of products a dermatologist recommends for women in their 20s, 30s, 40s and beyond: https://t.co/MkaskS4yfE. https://t.co/h7vvvMR4ky

10 hours ago
profile_image

MD Anderson Cancer Center

@MDAndersonNews

Tips for navigating a new #cancer diagnosis: https://t.co/FIMIqkN6wq #endcancer https://t.co/oI7VmejX4T

11 hours ago
profile_image

UTHealth

@UTHealth

In an interview with @KPRCradio Fifty+ host Doug Pike, Dr. Holly Holmes of @McGovernMed addressed the challenges faced by seniors taking multiple medications: https://t.co/yoUunBzKyx

11 hours ago
profile_image

MD Anderson Cancer Center

@MDAndersonNews

@NicFlenn Great news! We are sending you our best wishes.

11 hours ago
profile_image

UTHealth

@UTHealth

RT @MDA_UTHGrad: Check out the finalists for the 2018 GSBS Student Research Day Poster Session: https://t.co/NGqkBOUwfj. Remember, #GSBSsrd…

11 hours ago
profile_image

UTHealth

@UTHealth

RT @CLI_UTHealth: Our 8th Annual Institute is off to a great start and we are having a blast! Thanks to all of our presenters, attendees an…

11 hours ago
profile_image

MD Anderson Cancer Center

@MDAndersonNews

#Lymphoma caregiver, wife Kim Cunnea on MD Anderson: “There are lots of opportunities to be healed in lots of ways and tons of opportunities for caregivers to get the support they need.” #endcancer https://t.co/9GHyX2k1ot

12 hours ago
profile_image

BCMHouston

@bcmhouston

Dr. Sophia Banu has been around the globe helping people during some of their most challenging times of their lives. https://t.co/q3k0AQLKOK #WorldRefugeeDay

12 hours ago
profile_image

Veterans Affairs

@DeptVetAffairs

VA releases national suicide data report: Analysis part of VA’s comprehensive examination of more than 55 million death records https://t.co/tEvt9gnVFh via #VAntagePoint

12 hours ago
profile_image

Veterans Affairs

@DeptVetAffairs

Stand Down event provides supplies and services to homeless Veterans in Michigan https://t.co/tpRnDmZ9Zm via @wzzm13

13 hours ago
profile_image

Veterans Affairs

@DeptVetAffairs

Today’s #VeteranOfTheDay is @USArmy Veteran Parrish Andre Fitts. https://t.co/TKAGbhyNrw

14 hours ago
profile_image

Memorial Hermann

@memorialhermann

Huey, who has diabetes, nearly lost his leg after developing an infection in his toe. But thanks to an advanced wound care treatment he was saved from an amputation. Read his story: https://t.co/Y7UtgUaUai. https://t.co/NzX6KZ73DD

15 hours ago