Monday, June 14, 2010

A Walk Through the Morgue with Rebecca Skloot

Rebecca Skloot's name is a well-known one in the book blogging community and the world at large after the publication of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Admittedly, I haven't read it yet. My time with the library's copy came and went before I could finish, but I will most definitely get it back!

While our time together was far too limited, I found something I liked in Rebecca Skloot's writing style from only a few pages. Her writing about science is really readable. Whether you're a student in a science class or a reader with a science book in hand, the last thing we really want is a monotone lecture. Rebecca Skloot is far from that writer or lecturer.

When I wandered into Barnes and Noble to download my free Nook content a while ago (April-something), I was tickled to find that one of the offerings was a short essay by Skloot. Titled, "Veterinary Morgues to Immortal Cells: My Path to Writing About Science," I wasn't sure it was for me. I'm the girl who shies away from ANY movie with a dog in it because, let's face it, 96.4% of the time, the dog dies. Bastard movie-makers! Same thing with books. I rarely invest my time loving a book dog because he or she is just gonna get whacked. However, this essay's title was just too much for me to pass up, so I downloaded it.

It's short--almost microscopic--at only four pages, but it's a quick drive-by of how Skloot came to write about science. She went to school to attend the pre-veterinary program at Colorado State and decided to take Creative Writing simply to fulfill her school's foreign language requirement. How creative writing can stand in for Spanish, French, or German, I'm not sure. She doesn't go into detail there. Personally, I realize we creative writer types speak another language sometimes, but COME ON.


She works in the school's animal morgue which is stuffed to the proverbial gills (no pun intended, but I realize it and I'm going with it) with corpses of the animals used to train the vet students. She writes an essay for her class about the wrongs of this practice, how the school should invest in computer programs to simulate dissection, and her entire creative writing class--a bunch of non-science majors--get their panties in a twist and write the dean to stop the evil, animal-killing practices on campus.

Voila! Skloot finds herself a love of writing and getting people fired up about science. In short, that's how The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks came to be. It was great to read such a wonky story of how one notable writer came to love and excel at her craft. So many writers just knew from the beginning that they were supposed to write. They'd shrivel up and die without it. Rebecca Skloot, on the other hand, found her love of writing in the morgue. Go figure.

Visit Rebecca Skloot's blog.

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