‘The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks’ Chosen as the FYE 2011 Summer Reading

The First Year Experience (FYE) and the Writing Programs at Philadelphia University announced that The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot has been chosen as the text for the FYE 2011 Summer Reading Program.

Skloot’s nonfiction work, published in 2010, highlights the contributions to science made by cancer patient Henrietta Lacks, a working-class, African-American woman whose cancer cells were harvested for research without her consent or knowledge.

Lacks’ cells, known to scientists as HeLa cells, form the basis for modern research in the biological sciences, playing an instrumental role in the creation of the polio vaccine, as well as countless other medical advances.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks will be distributed to all incoming freshman and will be the topic of a series of events that includes guest speakers, discussion groups and informational sessions held by faculty.

The series will include a book discussion with faculty during new student orientation, a presentation by an expert speaker on medical ethics, a student-run cancer awareness program by PhilaU’s Colleges Against Cancer student organization, an essay contest, and a symposium on the legal implications raised in the text.

Students will also participate in a summer blog in the form of an online book club, with the best entries awarded with a $50 gift certificate each week.

Diana Cundell, Ph.D., associate professor of biology, who worked with HeLa cells during her post-doctorate research, is particularly excited about the opportunity for students to engage in the ethical side of the health sciences. “There are millions of scientists all over the world working with these cells and developing new drugs, and Lacks receives no credit,” she said.

“This book was chosen because we wanted to identify a text that served as a good example of a ‘research narrative,’ the type of writing our program hopes our students will learn to do effectively,” said Aurelio Valente, associate dean of student development. “It also serves an interdisciplinary text that blends science and health, ethics, and social justice issues.”

Past summer reading selections have included Whose Art Is It? by Jane Kramer, Cradle to Cradle by William McDonough and Michael Braungart, and Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel, The Complete Persepolis.

For more information on the events or the Summer Reading Program, please contact Kathryn Gindlesparger, director of the Writing Program, at 215.951.2613 or Valente at 215.951.2557.

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