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'The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks' chosen for One Book, One Community reading project

Surprising things can happen when you find someone else who shares an interest in the same book or author. A conversation may develop, either in person or online. Acquaintanceship is struck. Sometimes friendship follows. So when an entire community reads the same book at the same time and participates together in accompanying events, even more amazing things can happen. People who don't know one another can find something in common to talk about. Depending on issues raised by the book's author, a community can become galvanized to promote change or simple awareness. This is why, in part, libraries in our region choose to promote a community-wide book discussion each year, the "One Book, One Community" reading project.

This spring, the Cloquet Public Library, along with other libraries in the Arrowhead Library System, is sponsoring the selection of "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" by Rebecca Skloot. The book has been a "New York Times" best-seller, now in paperback, since its publication in 2010.

The non-fiction title recounts the life and legacy of Henrietta Lacks, an impoverished black tobacco farmer who died of cancer at the age of 30 in 1951. What is remarkable about her story is the use of her cells in medical research, without the knowledge or consent of Henrietta or her family. These cells proved to be unusually resilient and prolific, which led to their use in the development of the polio vaccine and many other medical breakthroughs. Even as medical companies marketing her cells reaped millions of dollars in profits, Henrietta's children couldn't afford health insurance. They knew nothing about the medical advances that had been made possible because of their mother's cell line. "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" raises questions about medical ethics, race, and poverty. In addition to these issues, the book traces the highly personal journey of Henrietta's daughter to learn about the mother she barely remembered.

One Book's featured event will be a live interview with author Rebecca Skloot by Kerri Miller of Minnesota Public Radio at 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 18, at the DECC Symphony Hall. Admission is free, but tickets must be reserved through the College of St. Scholastica, who is underwriting expenses for this year's One Book project. Call 723-7000 to reserve tickets.

St. Scholastica is also offering free bus service to Canal Park for those interested in having dinner before the program. Call Mark or Mary at the Cloquet Public Library at 879-1531 to reserve a seat on the bus. Bus reservations are limited to 29 people. The bus will leave from the library parking lot at 4:30 p.m. and return after the 7 p.m. interview. Attendees are encouraged to make dinner reservations at Canal Park eating establishments and will need to walk or find other transportation to the DECC. The return bus will leave from the DECC parking lot.

Readers Theater

Cloquet Public Library will offer a special Readers Theater event at 6:30 p.m. Monday, April 16. Selections from the book and responses by members of the community will be read and discussed. The library invites written comments by all readers that may be read as part of the program. Submit your comments in advance by sending an e-mail to or leave your written comment at the front desk.

For a complete schedule of One Book, One Community events throughout the Arrowhead region, stop by the library to pick up a brochure, or check the Duluth Public Library's website for "Programs & News" at

Girls and Science

A young adult title addressing the theme of girls and science has been selected as a companion book for middle school age readers, "The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate" by Jacqueline Kelly. In connection with the theme of scientific discovery and the natural world, Jay Cooke State Park naturalist Kristine Hiller will present a program for all ages titled "Exploring Nature" at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, April 14, at the Cloquet Public Library. For further information, call the library at 879-1531.

Mark King is the adult services librarian at Cloquet Public Library.