"The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" by Rebeca Skloot has been selected as Coastal Carolina University's 2011 "Big Read." Incoming freshmen will read the book in preparation for the fall semester, and the author or another speaker will visit the campus to talk to students in September.
The "Big Read" is a summer reading program designed to encourage intellectual dialogue among students, professors and the University community. Since it was initiated in 2004, its purpose has been to create a singular introductory learning forum across various disciplines, and to facilitate creative and critical thinking on a common theme.
"The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" documents the life of Henrietta Lacks, whose cells are known to scientists the HeLa line. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells-taken without her knowledge-became one of the most important tools in medicine. The first "immortal" human cells grown in culture, HeLa cells are still alive today, though Lacks has been dead for more than 60 years. The cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovering secrets of cancer, viruses and the atom bomb's effects; and leading to important advances in in-vitro fertilization, cloning and gene mapping. They have been bought and sold by the trillions. Yet Henrietta Lacks remains virtually unknown, buried in an unmarked grave.
"The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" is Skloot's first book. She has published more than 200 featured stories and essays. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The New York Times Magazine and O: The Oprah Magazine, among others.
Books that have been selected for "Big Reads" in the past include: "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" by Mark Haddon; "Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood" by Marjane Satrapi; "Close to Shore: The Terrifying Shark Attacks of 1916" by Michael Capuzzo; "Goat: A Memoir" by Brad Land; "Scratch Beginnings: Me, $25, and the Search for the American Dream" by Adam Shepard; and "The Brief History of the Dead" by Kevin Brockmeier.
For more information call Scott Pleasant, chair of the Big Read program, at 843-349-4154, or go to www.coastal.edu/fye/bigread.