St. Scholastica draws best-selling author to Duluth eventRebecca Skloot and her book are hot tickets in Duluth. There were 2,200 seats available for the author’s conversation with Minnesota Public Radio’s Kerri Miller this Wednesday at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center’s Symphony Hall. By Friday, all had been reserved, said Bob Ashenmacher, spokesman for the College of St. Scholastica.
By: John Lundy, Duluth News Tribune
Rebecca Skloot and her book are hot tickets in Duluth.
There were 2,200 seats available for the author’s conversation with Minnesota Public Radio’s Kerri Miller this Wednesday at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center’s Symphony Hall. By Friday, all had been reserved, said Bob Ashenmacher, spokesman for the College of St. Scholastica.
Meanwhile, all of the Duluth Public Library’s copies of Skloot’s book, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” — 36 books, four audiobooks on CD, two “book club in a bag” versions with 10 copies each, two large-print editions, three downloadable ebooks and one downloadable audiobook — were checked out as of late last week, said Nancy Eaton, the library’s director of community services. And there was a waiting list for each category, including 29 “holds” for the book itself.
“We touched a nerve, St. Scholastica and Rebecca Skloot,” said Tom Morgan, associate professor of Russian for the college. “Some of this is blind dumb luck, I guess.”
Morgan doesn’t remember exactly when he was given the assignment to try to lure the New York Times-bestselling author to Duluth. He only knows he worked on it for many months. Morgan was a natural choice. He has brought a number of high-octane speakers to St. Scholastica, particularly in his role as the director of the Alworth Center for Peace and Justice.
The decision to seek Skloot as a speaker came out of discussions around this time last year about St. Scholastica’s centennial observance, said Beth Domholdt, the college’s vice president for academic affairs. The committee sought something for this year’s anniversary that would be both a gift to the community and fit the college’s educational mission, Domholdt said.
There was talk of a monument or statue, Morgan recalled. “That got less and less interesting,” he said. “Does the town need another statue or monument? It was more a sense of giving something to the community more than just having a monument celebrating ourselves.”
Neither Domholdt nor Morgan could remember who first suggested Skloot as a possible speaker, but she emerged as the favorite choice.
The book was a good fit for Scholastica’s mission, Morgan said.
“We’re about education, we’re about social justice, we’re about health care, we’re about ethics and we’re about critical thinking,” he said.
St. Scholastica approached the committee that selects a book for Duluth’s annual One Book One Community project. The panel agreed it was a good choice and has worked closely with St. Scholastica on the project, Eaton said. Skloot’s book also was chosen as the required read for all first-year students at Scholastica.
But landing Skloot as a speaker wasn’t easy, Morgan said.
“This was a little coup,” he said. “She’s still a hot commodity. She’s still very much in demand.”
Skloot’s publicists told Morgan that Skloot had at least 40 invitations to speak this month. She accepted three.
Morgan won’t say how much Skloot is getting paid for the appearance except that it’s in five figures. But it took a selling job beyond that. The facts that the book is a community read, that Scholastica is celebrating its 100th anniversary, that the school’s values mirror issues in the book and that Kerri Miller and MPR would be involved all helped sway Skloot, Morgan was told.
All seats are reserved, but they are free. Scholastica is funding the event with help from Kim and Dede Chart, the Community Opportunity Fund of the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation, Essentia Health and the St. Luke’s Foundation.
Although Skloot’s appearance is the marquee event, numerous other events related to the book have been well-attended, Eaton said. Discussions about the medical ethics implications of “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” led by physicians have drawn close to 100 people to the library’s Green Room, she said.