Penpal from Tomorrow

Here’s a short story about the first-ever time travel visit to the contemporary world. Only it’s not really a visitit’s communication, because what we’ve discovered, later this century, is that we can time-shift information, but not physical matter.

But that doesn’t make much difference to the particular time-traveler in this story—who figures out rather cleverly how to benefit from her new discovery.

This 5,000 word short story is available as a PDF—Penpal from Tomorrow—or else as a Kindle short at Amazon.

Finding Henrietta Lacks

Many readers of Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks have written to ask about the original Rolling Stone article referenced in the book. As Rebecca describes, back in 1976, as a very young science writer, I was the first to locate the Lacks family and explain to them Henrietta’s remarkable role in biomedicine. This is the story of how that happened.

When I came across what was then called the “Helen Lane” story (the pseudonym for Henrietta that the researchers used in public), it looked like an important biomedical story—but I wanted to bring it to life by actually finding her surviving relatives and paint a portrait of “Helen” herself.

It seemed like a long-shot at best, but back then my editor at Rolling Stone, Jann Wenner, liked long-shots.  But it nearly proved impossible.  Back in the Seventies, the biomedical community controlled information far more closely than today.  Plus, the unspoken rules of science writing at the time made printing a tissue donor’s real name ethically dubious.  Ultimately, through a single slip of the tongue by a researcher, I was able to find the family—as they were on the very first step of the difficult journey that Rebecca so ably chronicles in her book.

This booklet describes my efforts to find Henrietta Lacks—within the particular opportunities and challenges of journalism in the Seventies—and also includes the text of the original 1976 article.