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Breakthrough Jew - Rebecca Skloot

Skloot is the New York Times best-selling author of 'The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, which is currently being adapted for an HBO film by Oprah Winfrey.

By: Sarah Bauder
Published: October 3rd, 2013 in Culture » Books » News
Rebecca Skloot

Hot, hip, and heady, the next wave of Jewish artists and influencers has already arrived. This is Breakthrough Jew, your weekly showcase of those on the verge of discovery and ready to be a regular figure in pop culture; setting trends, redefining genres, and simply getting it done-whatever ‘it’ is. These days, it’s not enough to know what’s hot now; you need to catch someone when they’re just starting to simmer.

Featuring those in film, fashion, food, and beyond, we’ll find the story before substance is obscured by style, before hype meets backlash, and before talent and purpose gets lost in a maze of Internet chatter. See an artist in the cozy bar before they hit the amphitheater, dine at a chef’s new restaurant before the line begins, and catch a young writer’s work before the demands of ratings and longevity encroach.

Follow our lead and we’ll follow yours – send us tips or suggestions via email, comment below or tweet us @ShalomLife, as we explore the Jewish landscape for pop culture pioneers.


Name: Rebecca Skloot

Age: 41

Hometown: Springfield, Illinois

Breakthrough Cred: Authored the New York Times bestseller, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Rebecca Skloot has accomplished what most authors merely dream of: a critically acclaimed debut novel that has sat on the New York Times best-seller list for more than three years since its publication. In 2010, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks became an instant hit, thrusting Skloot and the riveting true story of Henrietta Lacks, into the limelight.


Lacks was a poor African American tobacco farmer, and mother of five, who sadly passed away from cervical cancer in 1951. Unbeknownst to her, a couple months prior to her death, a sample of her cells were used to create the first human cell line with the capability of reproducing infinitely in a lab setting. Code-named HeLa, scientists have used these essentially immortal cells to help develop everything from cancer medications, to vaccines, to cloning. Lacks’ contribution to science is monumental, but unfortunately, her children have never benefited in any capacity from HeLa. In fact, they became cognizant of the cells 20 years after their mother’s death, only because scientists began using the family in research, again, unbeknownst to them.

“I first learned about Henrietta Lacks and her amazing cells when I was 16 in a basic biology class at the local community college (a class I was taking because I’d failed biology at the local high school and I was trying to make up the credits to graduate). At that point I was planning to be a veterinarian, so I didn’t immediately think, Ah! I’m going to write a book about Henrietta! So a “click” definitely happened in that moment that changed my life, but it wasn’t a moment that made me realize I wanted to be a writer, and that I wanted to write about Henrietta. That didn’t happen for another decade,” Skloot told The Daily Beast.

After graduating from community college, Skloot received a degree in biological sciences, and then took a MFA in creative nonfiction. She’s been gainfully employed as a veterinary technician, taught creative writing and science journalism at New York University, University of Memphis, and University of Pittsburgh, and been a correspondent for PBS’s NOVA ScienceNow, and NPR’s Radiolab. In addition to that, Skloot has had a couple hundred articles and essays published in everything from The New York Times to O: The Oprah Magazine.


Apropos of Ms. Oprah Winfrey, the media mogul was so taken with The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, that she and Alan Ball (Oscar winning writer of American Beauty, and creator and executive producer of True Blood and Six Feet Under) will adapt the book into an HBO film. The universal acclaim for Skloot’s debut book has been incredible, but it’s a fitting endnote seeing as it took the author an arduous 10 years to research and write.

Related articles: Rebecca Skloot, Breakthrough Jew, Jewish, Judaism, Author, Book, Oprah Winfrey, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, New York Times Bestseller
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