HBO movie premiering this week inspired by CSU alumna’s book

Rebecca Skloot, a College of Natural Sciences alumna who’s met critical acclaim as a science and medical writer, enters the spotlight once more this week. On Saturday, April 22, HBO will premiere a movie based on Skloot’s 2010 book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.

Rebecca Skloot
Rebecca Skloot

HBO’s production, which stars Oprah and Rose Byrne, brings to life the riveting story of a poor Southern tobacco farmer whose cells would become one of the most significant tools in modern medicine. Lacks’ cells were taken without her family’s consent during her battle with aggressive, fatal cancer in 1951.

Lacks’ cell line, now known as HeLa cells, have played a fundamental role in countless medical breakthroughs, from the polio vaccine to in vitro fertilization to gene mapping. Skloot’s prodigious reporting in her book brought the story of Lacks’ cells, and her family’s struggle to recover their mother’s legacy, before the public consciousness.

Skloot graduated from Colorado State University in 1997 with an undergraduate degree in biological science. An aspiring veterinarian at the time, Skloot paid her way through school by working in neurology labs and the CSU veterinary morgue and emergency room.

Transition to writing

Several CSU writing teachers from the Department of English, including John Calderazzo, recognized her talent and encouraged Skloot to pursue writing. She went on to receive an MFA in creative nonfiction from the University of Pittsburgh.

Skloot has contributed stories and essays to The New York Times, Popular Science and other major publications. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks was her first book, which became a New York Times notable book and was selected as best book of the year by more than 60 publications.

Following critical success of her book, Skloot established the Henrietta Lacks Foundation, which helps people “who have made important contributions to scientific research without personally benefitting from those contributions, particularly those used in research without their knowledge or consent.”

She returned to campus in 2010 to deliver a reading and participate in a panel on biomedical issues.

Skloot is writing a second book, on the ethics of human-animal relationships.