Montclair Book Essay Contest 2013

Montclair Book Essay Contest 2013

The Legacy of Henrietta Lacks

Sponsored by the Center for Writing Excellence

There’s a photo on my wall of a woman I’ve never met, its left corner torn and patched together with tape. She looks straight into the camera and smiles, hands on hips, dress suit neatly pressed, lips painted deep red. It’s the late 1940s and she hasn’t yet reached the age of thirty. Her light brown skin is smooth, her eyes still young and playful, oblivious to the tumor growing inside her—a tumor that would leave her five children motherless and change the future of medicine. Beneath the photo, a caption says her name is “Henrietta Lacks, Helen Lane or Helen Larson.” No one knows who took that picture, but it’s appeared hundreds of times in magazines and science textbooks, on blogs and laboratory walls. She’s usually identified as Helen Lane, but often she has no name at all. She’s simply called HeLa, the code name given to the world’s first immortal human cells…involving HeLa cells.

--Rebecca Skloot, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks


The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks can be interpreted on many different levels, including but not limited to cultural, social, historical, ethical, educational, medical, and scientific issues.  Choose one or more of these perspectives and write an essay in which you discuss the most critical questions raised by the story of Henrietta Lacks and her family, her cells (which were taken without her knowledge or consent), and her enduring legacy, including race, bioethics, the politics of science, and a person’s right to his or her own body. You may choose to focus solely on the book itself, or you may use it as a starting point for analyzing another text, cultural product, or another contemporary issue related to the questions raised by this book.  You may cite outside sources, but they are not required. (If you do cite sources, follow then citation style of your discipline.)


Length: Between 750-1000 words

Submission:  Double space and use a 12-point font. Entries must include a separate title page with your name, essay title, and contact information: phone number, email address, and mailing address.

Evaluation criteria: Each essay will be judged based on the extent and effectiveness with which it:

      - Engages audience
- Communicates an argument effectively
- Uses persuasive evidence
- Exemplifies excellence in writing

Eligible contestants: Open to all undergraduates enrolled at Montclair State University during the Fall 2012 or Spring 2013 semester

1 winner will receive $100
2 runner ups will receive $25 each


Submission Deadline Extended to:  Monday, April 22, 2013

How to Submit:  Send an electronic copy to and in the subject line enter “Montclair Book Essay Contest.”  In the email message, indicate the college or school in which you enrolled, the degree for which you are a candidate, and when you expect to graduate.  If you have not yet declared a major, please indicate that as well.