Stories endure. A story — with characters, a narrative arch, a deeper meaning — does much more than just inform, it also makes you feel part of the story. The primary goal of the Narrative Journalism Foundation is to stimulate the use of narrative journalism, also known as narrative non-fiction, in the Dutch media. This includes journalistic productions for daily, weekly and monthly print media, as well as books, radio, internet and television. During this series of Livecasts we’ll talk with the creators of impactful journalistic productions from all over the world. We’ll discuss how they have used narrative techniques successfully, without losing their journalistic integrity.
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Most science journalists dream of a story, such as the story about Henrietta Lacks, that in 2017 was made into an Emmy Nominated HBO film starring Oprah Winfrey…
Bestselling author Rebecca Skloot spent more than ten years doggedly uncovering the truth about the life, death, and ultimate “immortality” of a poor Black tobacco farmer named Henrietta Lacks. Her phenomenal book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks has sold nearly 3 million copies to date. Part detective story, part scientific odyssey, and part family saga, The Immortal Life raises haunting yet urgent questions about race, class, autonomy, and bioethics in America.
In The Immortal Life, Skloot tells the story of a young Black woman who died of cervical cancer in 1951—and left behind an inexplicably immortal line of cells known as HeLa. Henrietta’s cells—harvested without her knowledge or consent—contributed to scientific advancements as varied as the polio vaccine, treatments for cancers and viruses, in-vitro fertilization, and the impact of space travel on human cells. The Immortal Life is also the story of Henrietta’s descendants, the Lacks family, some of whom were used in research without their consent and none of whom have ever benefited from the commercialization of HeLa cells, even though those cells have helped biotech companies make millions of dollars. It was only in August 2020, the centennial celebration of Henrietta’s birth, when that began to change. It was at that time that organizations that utilize the HeLa cells made the first historic gifts to the Henrietta Lacks Foundation
Rebecca Skloot has a BS in biological sciences and a MFA in creative nonfiction. She has taught creative writing and science journalism at the University of Memphis, the University of Pittsburgh, and New York University. She is the founder and president of the Henrietta Lacks Foundation, which strives to provide financial assistance to needy individuals who have made important contributions to scientific research without their knowledge or consent.
In this livecast, organized in collaboration with the Association for Science Journalism and Communication Netherlands (VWN), we talk with Dutch science journalist/writer Job de Vrieze and Rebecca Skloot about the process of making The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and how to apply narrative techniques in science writing.