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Wednesday, February 9, 2011


Every year, the great Powells internet bookstore asks readers to nominate favorite books

And the 2011 winners are in.

The winner of the fiction award is The Help, by Kathryn Stockett.

This intriguing tale is about a young white woman writer in 1960s Mississippi, who aspires to compile the secret stories of black domestic workers.

Inveigled by the novel idea, two black women risk not just their jobs but their lives to collect the interviews she needs.

And the winner of the nonfiction award is The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot.

Henrietta Lacks was black, poor, a tobacco farmer, and mother of five.  In short, she lived very much as her slave ancestors did.  When she was terminally ill of a vicious form of cervical cancer, she became a test patient at John Hopkins.

During her treatment and after her death, researchers harvested her cancer cells, asking the permission of no one.  This was pretty run-of-the-mill.  What was unusual was what happened next.

Those cells became one of the most important tools of medicine ever.  Grown in laboratories, they were vital for developing polio vaccine, and led to great advances like in-vitro fertilization, and the mapping of genes.

Yet, sixty years after her death, Henrietta Lacks lies in an unmarked grave.  

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