African American Authors Book Club

Meets the 2nd Tuesday of each month at 5 p.m.
At the Athens-Clarke County Library

The African American Authors Book Club is for anyone who is interested and who loves to read. The books are selected by members of the book club and are primarily books written by African American authors. Our objective is to broaden our knowledge of the many African American authors and their writings and just have fun reading.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

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May 8, 2012

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot: Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells--taken without her knowledge--became one of the most important tools in medicine. The first "immortal" human cells grown in culture, they are still alive today, though she has been dead for more than sixty years. If you could pile all HeLa cells ever grown onto a scale, they'd weigh more than 50 million metric tons - as much as a hundred Empire State Buildings. HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the atom bomb's effects; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions.

Yet Henrietta Lacks remains virtually unknown, buried in an unmarked grave.

Now Rebecca Skloot takes us on an extraordinary journey, from the "colored" ward of Johns Hopkins Hospital in the 1950s to stark white laboratories with freezers full of HeLa cells; from Henrietta's small, dying hometown of Clover, Virginia--a land of wooden slave quarters, faith healings, and voodoo--to East Baltimore today, where her children and grandchildren live and struggle with the legacy of her cells.

Henrietta's family did not learn of her "immortality" until more than twenty years after her death, when scientists investigating HeLa began using her husband and children in research without informed consent. And though the cells had launched a multimillion-dollar industry that sells human biological materials, her family never saw any of the profits. As Rebecca Skloot so brilliantly shows, the story of the Lacks family--past and present--is inextricably connected to the dark history of experimentation on African Americans, the birth of bioethics, and the legal battles over whether we control the stuff we are made of.

Over the decade it took to uncover this story, Rebecca became enmeshed in the lives of the Lacks family--especially Henrietta's daughter Deborah, who was devastated to learn about her mother's cells. She was consumed with questions: Had scientists cloned her mother? Did it hurt her when researchers infected her cells with viruses and shot them into space? What happened to her sister, Elsie, who died in a mental institution at the age of fifteen? And if her mother was so important to medicine, why couldn't her children afford health insurance?

Intimate in feeling, astonishing in scope, and impossible to put down, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks captures the beauty and drama of scientific discovery, as well as its human consequences. - Publisher

Mama Ruby

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April 10, 2012

Mama Ruby by Mary Monroe: After Othella--the daughter of the town tramp in Shreveport, Louisiana--convinces her to give her baby away, 15-year-old Ruby Jean Upshaw runs away to New Orleans where nothing can erase the memories of the child she lost or quell her simmering rage at Othella for persuading her to let her baby go. - Publisher

Till You Hear From Me : A Novel

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March 13, 2012

Till You Hear From Me : A Novel by Pearl Cleage: Just when it appears that all her hard work on Barack Obama's presidential campaign is about to pay off with a White House job, thirty-five-year-old Ida B. Wells Dunbar finds herself on Washington, D.C.'s post-election sidelines even as her twenty-something counterparts overrun the West Wing. She returns home to Atlanta, and her controversial civil rights icon father, Reverend Horace A. Dunbar. - Publisher

Silver Sparrow

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February 14, 2012

Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones: With the opening line of Silver Sparrow, "My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist," author Tayari Jones unveils a breathtaking story about a man's deception, a family's complicity, and two teenage girls caught in the middle.

Set in a middle-class neighborhood in Atlanta in the 1980s, the novel revolves around James Witherspoon's two families-the public one and the secret one. When the daughters from each family meet and form a friendship, only one of them knows they are sisters. It is a relationship destined to explode when secrets are revealed and illusions shattered. As Jones explores the backstories of her rich yet flawed characters-the father, the two mothers, the grandmother, and the uncle-she also reveals the joy, as well as the destruction, they brought to one another's lives. - Publisher