Book Signing in Hackney Library with David “Sonny” Lacks, August 21, 2012, Noon to 1 pm

David “Sonny” Lacks

Hackney Library is pleased to announce that it will be hosting a book signing by David “Sonny” Lacks on Tuesday, August 21, from noon to 1:00 in the library. 

Lacks is the son of Henrietta Lacks, who is the subject of this year’s Barton Freshman Summer Reader, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Crown, 2010), by journalist Rebecca Skloot.

One of several events on campus featuring Mr. Lacks and sponsored jointly by Barton College’s Division of Student Affairs and Acadmic Affairs, the book signing is also a component of the Library’s celebration of “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” Day.  The event is free and open to the general public as well as to the Barton community.  

Sonny Lacks will be available for questions during the event, where he will be signing copies of Skloot’s book. (Copies of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks will be available for purchase at the library before and during the event.)

Henrietta Lacks was a 31-year-old poor African-American tobacco farmer whose cells were harvested in 1951 without her knowledge or consent by researchers at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore where she underwent treatment for cervical cancer. 

Called HeLa cells (after the first two letters in her first and last names), Henrietta’s cells went on to become the first “immortal” human cells —that is, human cells that didn’t die in culture—ever grown in the laboratory, and they have since become one of the most important tools in modern medicine, vital for developing the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, AIDS treatments, and more.  Though Henrietta died in 1951, her cells—alive and growing to this day—are still the most widely used cell line for research in the world.

Henrietta’s family didn’t learn that the cells existed until the 1970s, when scientists wanted to do research on her five children to learn more about the remarkable “immortality” of Henrietta’s cell line.  Her children were then used in research without their consent, and without having their most basic questions about the cells answered.  Henrietta’s cells have helped biotech companies make millions of dollars, yet her family has never benefited from the commercialization of HeLa cells.

Skloot’s book Immortal Life chronicles Henrietta Lacks’s life, the development of the HeLa cell line, and Skloot’s gradual building of relationships with Lacks’s children and other relatives.  The book, a New York Times bestseller, “reads like a novel, but the science behind the story is also deftly handled,” according to a review in Library Journal (December 15, 2009, p. 130). 

Publishers Weekly claims that “[w]hat Skloot so poignantly portrays is the devastating impact Henrietta’s death and the eventual importance of her cells had on her husband and children….Letting people and events speak for themselves, Skloot tells a rich, resonant tale of modern science, the wonders it can perform and how easily it can exploit society’s most vulnerable people” (October, 5, 2009, p. 40).  

Booklist’s starred review of the book reveals that Skloot “discovers that although the HeLa cells have improved countless lives, they have also engendered a legacy of pain, a litany of injustices, and a constellation of mysteries….Skloot tells a truly astonishing story of racism and poverty, science and conscience, spirituality and family driven by a galvanizing inquiry into the sanctity of the body and the very nature of the life force” (December 1, 2009, p. 18).

Please join us for this thought-provoking celebration of the life and contribution to medical science made by Henrietta Lacks.  For more information, contact Hackney Library at 252-399-6500.

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