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Reflecting on my presentation

maht91's picture




When I was thinking about my learning experience throughout this semester, I was amazed by how much my thinking process about words that I use in everyday life changed and I became more aware of concepts that I held before. For instance, the words fiction and non-fiction, or the intent of the author being the only right way to interpret the text, you either present the right interpretation or you don’t. Therefore, I decided to do my performance on the change in my learning experience when it came to interpreting, questioning, doubting and believing the text. This is the text of my performance.



Hi, my name is Marina and here is my performance.

When I joined the class “Facing the Facts: An Exploration of Non-fictional Prose,” I expected to be reading this known genre of literature called “non-fiction” and learning about the facts that the text and the author have for us, the readers.

But, I noticed a change in my expectations. So now we have reached the end of the semester; we had 26 days of classes and have explored different genres, stories, theories, truths, and people. What I found really interesting about our class were our varied discussions and postings. I came to realize that every class, each one of us brought a new idea and a personal experience to share with the rest of us.

                                                           <-- NEW IDEAS

I took the time this past weekend to read through most of the postings and class notes for “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot, and I was amazed by the many contrasting opinions, or the juxtaposed ideas, or the overlapping conclusions the class came up with.


                                                                                            1. Contrasting opinions

                                                                                            2. Juxtaposed ideas

                                                                                            3. Overlapping conclusions

I always had this idea from my previous English classes that there is one right interpretation of the meaning of the text, that the author has one specific intention for writing the book.


However, the diversity of opinions, ideas and experiences discovered in class in giving meaning to the texts we have read reminded me of a theory that I wrote about in my last paper. It is called the “Reader’s Response Theory or Criticism.” Simply, the theory says that the reader is a necessary third party in the relationship that constitutes any literary work. Jane Tompkins wrote about this theory in her book. She explained that “the meaning [of the poem or text] has no effective existence outside of its realization in the mind of a reader.” This sentence sounds very true given our class experiences with reading literary texts.


                                                           Text  Author


Different readers may read the same text very differently. We all start reading a book without knowing what to expect. We might all pick up on different cues provided in a text and give our own interpretation or we might pick up on similar ideas but interpret them differently. A quote that corresponds to the Reader’s Response Theory says that: “The meaning [of a text] comes into existence not when the text is written, but when it is read and responded to.” I found this quote very enlightening and thought that it accurately depicted our class discussions and the transformation that we have been through day after day of digging deeper into the text. Professor Anne wrote about the Reader’s Response criticism in a paper she published and she said about the theory that “readers are encouraged to use their various life experiences when they engage texts.”

Therefore, I decided to put together a text of how each one of us included their experience in interpreting the “Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” and how our experiences reading the text have shaped the meaning of the book. This fits with the triangle diagram above suggesting that the reader is just as important as the author and the text in ultimately explaining any literary work.


This is how the conversation goes:


*How would you describe the book “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”?


-“I am amazed at how Skloot seems to come at this story from every possible angle (historical, medical, cultural) and from the perspective of her own journey, Henrietta’s and Henrietta’s family. That inability to categorize this book makes it even more interesting to me.”

-“I keep forgetting that I am reading nonfiction because the book reads so much like a novel.”

-“I too agree that it reads like a fictional novel. Did [Skloot] add things to make the novel more interesting. I feel that she does.”

-“The book is about the family and how the cells have affected her family-not really about the cells. “

-“[Skloot] did not succeed on writing a book on tissue rights-more about humanity issue.”

-“I TA for an intro bio lab-not really science writing-really a biography-a good biography about science.”

-“I read it at a political level.”

-“I read it in a social context and that is our responsibility to inform [Henrietta’s family].”

-“Read it as a history of research science.”


*On what level did the book influence you?


-“I am of course incredibly grateful that HeLa cells led to the development of a cancer drug that saved my mother’s life, yet I feel a squirm-y now that the direct link between my mother and the exploitation of the Lacks family has been made explicit for me in black and white. My ultimate discomfort [stems from] the realization that this family is related to me and tells complicated part of my story.”

-“There is a person behind the cells. I was engaged biographically.”

-“I was very touched by the book. I was filled with great sadness reading the reactions of the Lacks family. On the other hand, from the scientists’ point of view, Henrietta’s cells have proven to be of great importance, so I can’t blame the scientists.”

-“I'm not enjoying the book. Uncomfortable in the way she wrote it, and dialogue. She has the book advertised in a way that it’s selling about information but it’s written in a novel, fictional way. Unethical (medical as well as narrative).”

-“Reading the 9/11 Report, contrasted heavily with the story of Henrietta Lacks where I felt connected and more emotionally invested in her story....I just felt a sense of guilt that I felt more emotionally vested in a story that was in no way connected to me than something that impacted my life and our world as a whole in such a drastic manner.”

-“[About the 9/11 Report], because it wasn't a first-person narrative I didn't feel like I could connect to the plot in the same way that I could reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.”


*What do you think is the purpose of the book?


-“She is writing as a story and immortality is part of that story.”

-“She is writing as a call to action and possible tissue rights.”

-“This is not a call to action, this is a catchy title.”

-“She seems like she is calling to action. Like for the Lacks family to get a piece of the pie or get tissue rights.”

-“The argument is about money.”

-“Her kids did not know their mother-can’t afford medical care, but other people can benefit from their mother’s cells.”

-“Thinking about what you would learn from that lens and their cells. Getting several lenses and you’re giving your own spin on it.”

*An interesting sentence someone said in class is that we should be explorers and not be chained to one thing. And I think that this is what we have done during our class discussions. We were never chained to one genre, thought or idea. We even abandoned the boundaries between fiction and non-fiction in the last class, or we said that it falls on a spectrum.

-Professor Anne asked the question: should we feel guilty about reading the book through our own experiences? Should we be naming the frame through which we read the book?

In my opinion, I think that The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks has combined different genres of nonfiction, each directed in a certain direction, and thus the text has targeted different readers and triggered different feelings and reactions. The book as a result, has been interpreted differently, and given a certain meaning through the eyes of all the readers. Therefore, I think that in light of our experiences and through our different lenses, we are able to give meaning to the text, and then we add what we have to the other pieces of interpretation that others came up with. This makes the work of literature clear, engaging and complete. My message is that each one of us should continue searching for the truths and goals of a book, participating in the questions and believing game, spending time questioning the argument of the author and avoiding being chained to one genre, one definition, or one right answer.

This is the end of the conversation thread that I put together. I hope you enjoyed listening to what we all brought to the table from experiences, stories and ideas.

Thank you.



I felt that my presentation was reflective of what I learned as an individual over the course of the semester. I really enjoyed listening to other people’s presentations, it confirmed to me how we all had different experiences taking this class and we all developed in one way or another. In the end, all our presentations really summed up all our learning experiences and the fun we had during class.




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