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Open Books - Open Minds

2012-2013 Common Book Selection

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (2010)

We are pleased to announce that The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (Crown Publishing Group/Random House 2010) is the Open Books – Open Minds 2012-2013 common book selection. Henrietta Lacks was a young African American woman, treated at Johns Hopkins Hospital for cervical cancer in 1950. She was from Virginia, but Johns Hopkins was the closest hospital that would treat African Americans at that time. Though she died of cancer, her tumor cells lived on and, in fact, were extraordinarily reproductive: the "HeLa" cell strain became fundamental in subsequent medical research. Until the publication of Skloot's book, Henrietta Lacks's contribution to science was essentially forgotten. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks has highlighted Lacks's role in contemporary bio-medical research as well as issues of exploitation, ownership, consent, and racial inequality. It has been a best seller since its publication in 2010.

Open Books--Open Minds is the Rhode Island College common book program. This initiative brings together first-year students early in their first semester at RIC, and links them with upper-level peers, faculty, staff, administrators, alumni, and the greater Rhode Island community through book discussions and participation in a rich array of programs and activities. A series of lectures, round-table discussions, and film screenings will culminate in the Second Annual Open Books – Open Minds Student Conference in the spring, where students showcase their writing and research on the book itself or issues inspired by the reading.


The Open Books – Open Minds Committee is planning another year of exciting events for faculty and students inspired by the themes of the 2012-2013 common book selection, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.

Fall 2012

Teaching Round Table Discussion

Wednesday, September 12, 12:30-2:00, at the Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning.
Fortes room, Adams Library

James Scott, Rhode Island Nurses Institute Middle College Charter School, Prov.
Dr. Michael Clancy, Rhode Island Nurses Institute Middle College
Daniel Scott, English Department, Rhode Island College
Mikaila Arthur, Sociology Department, Rhode Island College
Khalil Saucier, Sociology Department, Rhode Island College

Faculty: Call for papers for Issues in Teaching and Learning and resources for the Open Books-Open Minds website

Ann Morning, "Race and Biology: Controversial Connections"

Tuesday, October 2, 2:00-3:00. Lecture by Ann Morning, Associate Professor, Dept. of Sociology, New York University. Sponsored jointly by Open Books – Open Minds and the Dialogue on Diversity Committee.
Alger 110

DNA and the Havasupai Tribe, Documentary with presentation, by Christine Marco

"When 'Informed' Consent is Uninformed: The Case of the Havasupai"
Rhode Island College Psychology Department and Chair of IRB
Wednesday, September 26, 12:30-2:00 pm
Fortes room, Adams Library

"Human Cell Culture, Cancer, and the Issue of Informed Consent: Look How Far We've Come!"

Sarah Spinette, Yael Avissar, Victoria Hittinger,
Biology Department, Rhode Island College
Wednesday, November 28, 12:30-2:00 pm
Fogarty Life Science 050

Bringing Books to Life: Student led Book Discussion: Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Tuesday, December 4, 2:00-3:30 pm, at Fortes Room, James P. Adams Library

Matthew Leo, Moderator

Spring 2013

Bringing Books to Life Events: Matthew Leo

Student Led Discussions on The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks: March 5, 12:00-2:00 pm, Fortes Room, Adams Library 409

Student Led Discussion, “Bringing HeLa to Life” : How to Present at the OBOM Student Conference March 19, 1:00-3:00 pm, Fortes Room, Adams Library 409

Miss Evers' Boys, HBO 1997 (Tuskegee Experiment)

Jason Danely, discussion moderator
Anthropology Department, Rhode Island College
Tuesday, February 5, 4:00-6:30 pm
Horace Mann 193

"Our Bodies, Our Cells": Bioethical Lessons from the Life and Death of Henrietta Lacks-Panel Discussion
March 20, 12:30-2:00 pm, Fortes Room, Adams Library 409

Moderator: Rebeka Merson, Ph.D. Associate Professor / Biology, RIC

  • Thomas Bledsoe, MD. Medical Educator at Brown. Chair, RI Hospital Ethics Committee.
  • Catherine Bliss, Ph.D. Post Doc. Fellow at Brown. Assistant Professor/ UCSF Author of Race Decoded: The Genomic Fight for Social Justice. (Stanford Univ. Press, 2012)
  • Donna Huntley-Newby, Ph.D. Associate Professor / Nursing, RIC.
  • Sheri Smith, Ph.D. Professor Emerita / Philosophy, RIC. Co-author of Ethical Issues in Home Health Care. 2nd (Charles C. Thomas, 2008)

Teaching the Open Book (Open Books, Open Minds)

Presentation by Bill Pett, Department of English, Rhode Island College.
Tuesday, April 9th, 2:30-3:30, Craig-Lee 047.
Sponsored by the First Year Writing Program Instructor Invitational. For more information on FYW and other presentations in the series, visit

Open Books – Open Minds Student Conference

Friday, April 12

The conference is a great opportunity for students to get involved with the intellectual life of the College, connect with faculty members, and gain experience presenting their academic work.

More about the Student Conference...

Keynote Speaker:
Artist, Joana Ricou, Carnegie Mellon University, Duquesne University The Intersection of Biology and Art, HeLa Cell Series of Paintings

HeLa Cells 1 HeLa Cells 2 Cell Adhesion

Outside Link

Watch for more events to be posted as we finalize the schedule.

Current Book Selection

About the Book

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (2010)

This unique mix of medical science, ethics, history and human suffering appeals to readers from every walk of life. It is a well-researched, yet sensitive, history of the HeLa cell line – biological material that enabled tremendous 20th century medical advances. The persistent growth of the cancer that killed Henrietta Lacks was the key to its ability to survive in laboratory cultures, but Skloot wanted to know more, much more, of the human story of its origins. When the African American mother of five died of that cancer in 1951, doctors thought nothing of using a patient's tissue for medical research. Whether Henrietta knew her tissue was being used or whether she consented was not an issue back in the 50s. But, 20 years later, when researchers at Johns Hopkins wanted tissue samples from her family, they revealed her identity and antagonized her family. By the time Skloot began her research, the family had long been painfully aware that their mother's remains had been taken from them and made the object of millions of dollars of medical commerce, without compensation of any kind.

--Judith Stokes
Outside LinkMore about the book from

About the Author

"Rebecca Skloot is an award-winning science writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine; O, The Oprah Magazine; Discover; and many others. She is coeditor of The Best American Science Writing 2011 and has worked as a correspondent for NPR's Radiolab and PBS's Nova ScienceNOW. She was named one of five surprising leaders of 2010 by the Washington Post. Skloot's debut book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, took more than a decade to research and write, and instantly became a New York Times bestseller. It was chosen as a best book of 2010 by more than sixty media outlets, including Entertainment Weekly, People, and the New York Times. It is being translated into more than twenty-five languages, adapted into a young reader edition, and being made into an HBO film produced by Oprah Winfrey and Alan Ball. Skloot is the founder and president of The Henrietta Lacks Foundation. She has a B.S. in biological sciences and an MFA in creative nonfiction. She has taught creative writing and science journalism at the University of Memphis, the University of Pittsburgh, and New York University. She lives in Chicago." (Random House) Outside LinkMore about the author from Random House. Visit the author's Outside Linkwebpage

Guides for Readers

Rhode Island College's LibGuide on The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot, Finding library resources on the book and related issues: HeLa Cells, Informed consent, Medicine and race, Bioethics, and links to some Lesson plans from other schools.


"A real-life detective story, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks probes deeply into racial and ethical issues in medicine . . . The emotional impact of Skloot's tale is intensified by its skillfully orchestrated counterpoint between two worlds." –Nature

"Like any good scientific research, this beautifully crafted and painstakingly researched book raises nearly as many questions as it answers . . . In a time when it's fashionable to demonize scientists, Skloot generously does not pin any sins to the lapels of the researchers. She just lets them be human . . . [and] challenges much of what we believe of ethics, tissue ownership, and humanity." –Science

"Indelible . . . The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a heroic work of cultural and medical journalism." –Laura Miller,

"No dead woman has done more for the living . . . a fascinating, harrowing, necessary book." –Hilary Mantel, The Guardian (U.K.)

"This remarkable story of how the cervical cells of the late Henrietta Lacks, a poor black woman, enabled subsequent discoveries from the polio vaccine to in vitro fertilization is extraordinary in itself; the added portrayal of Lacks's full life makes the story come alive with her humanity and the palpable relationship between race, science, and exploitation.–Paula J. Giddings, author of Ida, A Sword Among Lions; Elizabeth A. Woodson 1922 Professor, Afro-American Studies, Smith College

"In this gripping, vibrant book, Rebecca Skloot looks beyond the scientific marvels to explore the ethical issues behind a discovery that may have saved your life." –Mother Jones

"The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a remarkable feat of investigative journalism and a moving work of narrative nonfiction that reads with the vividness and urgency of fiction. It also raises sometimes uncomfortable questions with no clear-cut answers about whether people should be remunerated for their physical, genetic contributions to research and about the role of profit in science." –National Public Radio

"Graceful . . . I can't think of a better way to capture the corrosive effects of ethical transgressions in medical research. It's a heartbreaking story, beautifully rendered." –The Lancet

"Defies easy categorization . . . as unpredictable as any pulp mystery and as strange as any science fiction." –Willamette Week

Outside LinkA list of awards and more reviews.

Faculty: Call for Papers and Resources

In order to help instructors and peer discussion leaders effectively engage the book, we are asking faculty members to submit papers and resources for the Open Books-Open Minds website. Submissions will also be considered for a special symposium in Issues in Teaching in Learning (Volume 9).

Adobe PDFTeaching Guide – Daniel Scott

Email Zubeda Jalalzai or Anita Duneer with questions or submissions.


Please make sure to visit the RIC LibGuide for this year's book to view additional information and interactive content!

Topic: Rebecca Skloot's The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks


Rhode Island College's Open Books – Open Minds Program is calling for paper, panel, and roundtable proposals to be presented at our Second Annual Student Conference. Undergraduate and graduate students are eligible to submit a paper proposal. Instructors are encouraged to submit collaborative proposals for student panels or roundtables. Topics should be related to the 2012-2013 book selection, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, or inspired by issues raised in the book. We welcome submissions from any academic discipline as well as interdisciplinary approaches. We also welcome proposals of creative formats.

Possible topics include, but are not limited to:
  • Genetics on an individual and macro level;
  • "HeLA" cells in medical research;
  • Bioethics;
  • Race, class, gender and health care;
  • Minorities/women and medical experimentation;
  • Money, science, and medicine;
  • Ethics of biography or journalism;
  • Representing race or disease in science, literature, art;
  • Genetics in speculative literature or science fiction;
  • And any number of approaches from disciplines in the sciences, nursing, humanities, education, finance, and marketing.
  • Teaching The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks or related issues in the college or high school classroom
  • For more ideas for research, see the Outside LinkAdams Library LibGuide

To submit a proposal, email a 250-word abstract to, with OBOM PROPOSAL in the subject line. We request submissions of proposals generated in fall coursework by Friday, December 7. The spring deadline for submissions is March 25.

Please include the following with your proposal:
Student Submissions Faculty Submissions
  • The name of the presenter(s)
  • The title of the paper
  • A 200-250 word abstract (a short description that concisely identifies your topic and approach)
  • A faculty sponsor (or the name of the professor and the course in which you did the research)
  • The academic institution and program in which you study or teach, if other than RIC
  • The name of the faculty facilitator
  • The names of the student panelists
  • The title of the course in which students have researched this topic
  • The academic institution and program in which you teach, if other than RIC
  • A brief description of the topic for discussion (200-250 words)

Undergraduate papers will be allotted 10-12 minutes each (time for approximately 1000-1250 words or four-five pages, double-spaced); graduate student papers will be allotted 15 minutes. We will accept proposals for already-formed panels or for individual papers, which we will group by topic. ​

Page last updated: May 05, 2016