A few words about Kingsborough's common reading for 2012 - 2013,
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot:
Science journalist Rebecca Skloot tells of the discovery and life of the immortal "HeLa" cells that have changed the world and of the woman those cells belonged to. She details why these uncanny cells have been indispensable to medical science, recounts the biography of Henrietta Lacks and her family, and reiterates each step of her own arduous research journey.
We are excited about the book in part because it engages nearly every discipline in meaningful ways. It is a work of American history concerning everything from science and medicine to various ethical and legal concerns, from matters of speech and representation to those of social justice and religious belief. In this highly readable book, Skloot illustrates aspects of class, race, sex, religion, gender and health in American life, as well as the broad social, political, and historical contexts for the scientific history that is her chief subject.
In The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, a set of diverse disciplinary interests and avenues of inquiry come together:
- the history of the "HeLa" cells, from multiple scientific and medical angles and the medical and scientific advances made possible by them
- science and religion debates with regard to the bizarre immortality and reproducibility of the cells, and by extension of the woman whose DNA is contained by them
- the politics of speech, voice and dialect (as addressed by the author in "A Few Words About This Book")
- ethical questions regarding cell extraction, disclosure and ownership that touch on everything from biology to health to medicine to research to genetics to business and so on
- the full range of women’s and gender concerns, especially (the use and abuse of) the female body and, historically, of black women's bodies
- race, racism, and race privilege and under-privilege, as well as the scientific racism the discovery of these cells is historically rooted in
- the concerns of class are quite important as well, particularly the effects of poverty on families and individuals
- questions of telling history and representing the past, the nation and particular groups within society
- the position of the historian in relation to their subject matter---in terms of race, class, religion, gender, etc.
- the "loss" or intentional erasure of minority histories and the historical "fragments" of the dispossessed and disenfranchised
- ...and any number of other issues important to the work we do as scholars and as teachers.
The possibilities in terms of response and analysis run the gamut. The visual arts seem a natural inspiration and, eminently possible too, is for students in Music, Performing Arts or literature classes to compose poems, stories or dramatic monologues inspired by Henrietta Lacks' life and story, as well as personal essays, music or dance interpretations. In terms of visual arts, Madeline Sorel has been having her art students work on illustrations inspired by the book, which will continue across the year. And, then, there is the more obvious potential to produce wonderful science projects and posters through work in chemistry, biology, nursing, health classes, etc., as well as critical essays tackling the book’s themes in writing, history, behavioral science, political science, business, philosophy, ethics, and speech courses, among others.
See this informational video about KCC Reads and Rebecca Skloot's book. It was made in Spring 2013 by developmental English students working with Professor DL Anderson on the book:
Click the links below for support materials on the book as well as program info and events of the 2012 - 2013 academic year:
Inaugural Lecture with Prof. Susan Farrell, Dept. Chair, Behavioral Sciences & Human Services:
Black History Month: "The History of Black Struggle and the Struggle for Black History"
Women's History Month:
"Women Biologists Respond to Henrietta Lacks and 'HeLa'"
"Women's Studies & Women's History: The Importance of the Henrietta Lacks Story"
Conference Poetry Session:
Conference Dramatic Performance: "Immortal"