A reading assignment to spark a community discussion

  • Wednesday, August 13, 2014

     A reading assignment to spark a community discussion

    The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks book coverPRINCESS ANNE, MD- (Aug. 13, 2014) - Classes at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore for the fall semester start Aug. 25, but members of the Class of 2018 already have a homework assignment.

    Freshmen as well as students in select upper-level English, history and science classes are part of a new, "cross-campus / cross-disciplinary" reading initiative called "Just One Book."

    They all will be reading, discussing and debating "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" by Rebecca Skloot, the true story of "a poor black tobacco farmer whose (cancerous) cells - taken without her knowledge in 1951 - became one of the (20th century's) most important tools in medicine."

    Ms. Lacks' cells were used by researchers who were credited with "developing the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, in vitro fertilization and more," Skloot notes on her website.

    "Henrietta's cells have been bought and sold by the billions," the author wrote, "yet she remains virtually unknown" while her descendants struggle to pay for health insurance.

    Organizers of UMES' Just One Book initiative also are extending an invitation to others across campus and in the community at-large to read Skloot's widely regarded book in hopes of stimulating a broader conversation about questions the book raises.

    UMES sophomore Pierrysen Henry recommends the book to fellow students.

    "That book was amazing," Henry said. "I read it. Cover to cover. Twice."

    UMES' Department of English and Modern Languages plans to sponsor a student symposium featuring panels devoted to the book, along with other topics where participants can compete for monetary prizes and awards for the best presentation, essay and speech delivered. 

    The symposium, which will be announced later in the academic year, will emphasize scholarship and academic writing-research for students, according to organizers. 

    "Please pick up a copy now and join us in this important and relevant read," said Dr. Amy Hagenrater-Gooding, a UMES English professor who with colleague Courtney Harned is coordinating the "Just One Book" program for the 2014-15 academic year. Reach Hagenrater-Gooding at (410) 651-6351 or abhagenratergooding@umes.edu

    The Neebo campus bookstore in UMES' Student Services Center has "Henrietta Lacks" books in stock.

    Bill Robinson, director, Office of Public Relations, (410) 621-2355.