WSU Common Reading Lecture Series Kicks Off Tues. Aug. 21 with Showing of “Law & Order” Episode Linked to This Year’s Book

PULLMAN, Wash.—How do television shows base stories on people in the news or in books? Washington State University freshmen reading “The Immortal Story of Henrietta Lacks” in dozens of first-year classes can see for themselves when the Common Reading Program sponsors a showing of an episode from the popular show “Law and Order” Tuesday, Aug. 21, at 7 p.m. in Todd Hall 116.

While the show’s credits state the episode is not based on the lives of real people, the characters and plot in “Immortal” seem to align pretty closely with the facts surrounding the life and times of Lacks.

The common reading book, by non-fiction science writer Rebecca Skloot, is about Henrietta Lacks and her immortal cell line known as HeLa, derived from the first letters of her names.  Cervical cancer cells were taken from her without her knowledge prior to her death at 31 in 1951 for use in scientific research. HeLa cells were used to test the first polio vaccine in the 1950s, and since have been used for research into cancer, AIDS, the effects of radiation and toxic substances, gene mapping, and much more.

Skloot’s book was published in 2010 and covers the lives of Lacks’ five children and raises issues about racism, scientific ethics, poverty, and cancer, among others. It has won numerous awards and has been used for common readings at many universities.  In May 2010, it was announced that Home Box Office (HBO), with Oprah Winfrey‘s Harpo Films and producer Alan Ball, plan to create a film version of the story. With some of the proceeds from the book, Skloot has created a non-profit public charity called The Henrietta Lacks Foundation.

The book is used this year at both WSU and the University of Idaho as their common reading for students.  The Common Reading Program is a program in the University College at WSU.

For more information on the WSU program and upcoming events and speakers, visit


SOURCE: Karen Weathermon, Co-Director, WSU Common Reading Program in the University College at WSU, 509-335-5448,

MEDIA: Beverly Makhani, Communications, University College at WSU, 509-335-6679,