The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Asks the Wrong Questions

I hope Oprah’s HBO version of the Henrietta Lacks story does not discourage people of color from participating in clinical trials. Our nation’s institutional racism has certainly extended to health care. I’ve been in three clinical trials, and the one I’m in now, which studies the role of diet in MS, certainly has the least risk associated with it, and the most benefit. From what I hear, not many people of color are enrolled. I understand the context. But I think they are missing out.

Ms Lab Rat

Rebecca Skloot’s painstakingly researched, thought provoking book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, is the engaging story of a young white science writer who makes it her mission to humanize the patient behind the HeLa cells, a strain of apparently immortal cancer cells with a Zelig-like existence.

The HeLa cells have made and lost researchers millions of dollars. They’ve been instrumental in countless medical triumphs, and they’ve corrupted test results the world over. They’ve been shot into outer space, and into the arms of powerless prisoners. The HeLa cells originated in a woman who was never asked if she would agree to be a tissue donor, and who would never live to see any of the spectacular consequences of that surreptitious biopsy.

Henrietta Lacks was a young mother of five who felt a painful knot in her womb, and sought free medical care in the “colored” section of Johns…

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In Celebration of My Students

About ten years ago, I met a very nice woman with my last name who said she was working on a historical fiction. At the time, I was not a big fan of  historical fiction. She mentioned her historical fiction was also a romance. I was not at all into romance. (At least, not as a literary genre.) She confessed that her historical romance was nearly 900 pages long. And unfinished. I guess I must have thought she was a very nice woman indeed, because I volunteered to read her 900 page unfinished  manuscript of romantic historical fiction. On our second meeting, she looked more than a little apologetic when she handed over a very heavy sack of papers. At this point I may have warned her that there could be a problem with this arrangement: I am not a very nice woman. If I didn’t like her book, I would tell her so.

What was I getting into? Perhaps this would be the beginning of a very short relationship. When I handed her manuscript back a few days later, Maria McKenzie scanned through and saw my semi-legible scrawl wending through just about every page. I told her she did not have a novel. She had three novels. I have been scrawling over her manuscripts on weekly basis ever since.

The three books of Maria McKenzie’s Unchained Trilogy, Escape, Masquerade and Revelation, have gone on to become bestsellers on Amazon’s African American Historical Fiction list. And today Audible released the first of the trilogy on audiobook. 

When you are done reading Maria’s trilogy, you will jump to her gripping historical fiction from a more recent era, The Governor’s Sons. If you are in the mood for comedy,  you will laugh out loud reading her foray into mystery, From Cad to Cadaver: A Black Ops Detective Story. She’s got another African American Historical Fiction in the works now, and it is shaping up to be her most ambitious and controversial yet.

When my MS has acted up, this prolific author and unwavering friend has prayed over me, has baked my family delicious pans of lasagna. I am so grateful for the many students I have had who have turned into friends. Each and every one of them has shared their complex inner lives with me, widening my scope of interest.

Here is an incomplete list of links to my students’ works. It is incomplete, in part, because many of the talented writers from The Clifton Cultural Arts Center, The Art Academy of Cincinnati, The Kenwood Senior Living Center, The University of Iowa and my long ago workshop in CT have produced works of great literary merit but have not yet published.

Phone Scams by Lee German

A Winter Break by Elaine Olund

Letter Bomb by Elaine Olund

A Double Life by Elaine Olund

Sea Change by Elaine Oland 

You Are Unique by Maria Ramos

Something Sweet by Andrea Rotterman

Introducing the Eradicator by Edith Samuels

Jigsaw by Edith Samuels

A Circle of Gratitude by Joan D. Sattler

Thoughts and Attitudes by Joan D. Sattler

Two Visitors by Win Swormstedt

Put it on the Tab, Mr. Joe by Ida Zinam2012-04-03 CCAC _4039649