Christmas has come early: I actually went to a reading/lecture this past Thursday. She could have been terrible and I still would have been happy- I was at a big university, on a weeknight, with old students, knowing that my baby was in good hands (with his dad). Plus there was traffic, so I got to listen to Serial.
Early last week an old student/friend told me that Rebecca Skloot, author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, was going to be giving a talk at UCR. After further investigation I found out that it was totally free (even parking), and the fact that it was local added to the appeal.
So I went, and it was great.
The two people I was going with lined up early, so we had pretty decent seats (they should have done it in a lecture hall, though not a huge conference room). Skloot talked for about forty-five minutes, first describing Henrietta's story (if you haven't read it, read it) and then about the process that led her to writing it. She had heard about Lacks when she was a high school student taking community college classes (she had failed out of the traditional system) and was instantly intrigued. Lacks stayed with her as she entered her veterinarian studies in college, and after she was convinced to pursue science writing instead of animals, she started investigating Lack and the HeLa sells even more. Originally she planned to use this as her thesis, but the process took over a decade (she ended up turning it in a getting a degree eventually).
She spoke mainly for the students in the room, encouraging them to not get "tunnel vision," the condition that plagues so many students, forcing them to think they "have to study law" or "they must be a doctor." Her lecture was very polished- she's obviously done this a time or two (I must say that I do prefer readings that seem a bit more organic, or natural, but I understand that she's been on the circuit for two or so years). She took several questions afterward, two of which came from little girls that appeared to be in elementary school. They were more articulate that many of my students... and peers. It was pretty adorable.
If you can ever hear her speak I highly recommend it. For someone like me who enjoys both the literary and scientific arenas it was perfect.
Did I mention I got out of the house, alone, on a week night?