Award-winning author comes to campus

Story and Icardo Center Photos by Stephannie Heerdink, CSUB Public Affairs Intern

Photos of Dezember Reading Room visit by Irma Cervantes, Public Affairs Coordinator

Rebecca Skloot, science journalist and award-winning author for her writing on The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, spent some time in Roadrunner territory on November 6 to speak to students and community members. Skloot had two items on her agenda while on campus: attend a small awards ceremony and then a larger author discussion. Most people are familiar with the larger event she attended at the Icardo center but a lucky group of students and their families got exclusive access to Skloot during the awards ceremony.

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Skloot spend the first part of her visit congratulating the winners of the First-Year Experience program essay contest. The essay contest was open to all students in CSUB 101 as well as English 80, 99, and 110. This year, in alignment with the One Book, One Bakersfield, One Kern program, the essay prompt required students to reflect their own interpretation and original thinking of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Judged by a panel of composed of faculty, awards were given for first, second and third place.

Third place, carrying with it a certificate and a cash award of $100, went to Jonathan Lazlde for his essay entitled The End Justifies the Means. Shantel Ornelas took second place for her essay Humanity Has the Right to Know: Science Unveiled earning herself a certificate and a cash prize of $150. Krystal Bradford earned the first place award and took home the grand prize of $250 and a certificate for her essay There is a Thin Line between Helping and Making a Name for Yourself.

For the past couple of years, CSUB has held a similar essay competition at Independence High School. By offering students recognition and monetary prizes, CSUB encourages them to engage in the competition.

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The winning students and their families were invited to a private book-signing awards ceremony at the Dezember reading room. The intimate awards ceremony recognized the students for their winning essays and the exclusive environment gave them an opportunity to speak with Skloot individually.

After spending some time with the students and their families, Skloot had to prepare for her next apperance, An Evening with Rebecca Skloot in the Icardo Center. This culminating event, as part of the partnership between CSUB, One Book, One Bakersfield, One Kern and the Kern County Library, provides the students and community with an opportunity to experience the book selection in a different way. “During the author’s visit, participants have the opportunity to ask questions of the author and exchange ideas about the book, the author’s writing process, or the author’s next project,” says Dr. Emerson Case, CSUB Professor of English and Coordinator for the First-Year Experience program.

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During her presentation, Skloot talked about a wide-range of topics surrounding The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. She mentioned her biology professor and how he spiked her interest in pursuing the legend of the HeLa cells. She updated the audience on her relationship with the Lacks family and happily admitted that they are in everyday contact with each other. She also shared that she experienced racial segregation. “A black person couldn’t have written this book,” Skloot admitted.  Skloot accidently uncovered this truth during an interview with a male in the medial field when he referred to Africa American people as “those” people. At that moment, she realized that if she were black, she would not have had access to the same resources. Skloot finished off the evening with a book signing open to all audience members.  

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks has earned Skloot many awards including the #1 New York Times Bestseller, the 2010 Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize for Nonfiction and much more. Henrietta story has become so desired that HBO is working on turning it into a movie produced by Oprah Winfrey and Alan Ball.

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