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Monique Gaffney On ‘Being Henrietta’

Turning Life Into Art

Artist in Residence Monique Gaffney.

Credit: UC San Diego

Above: Artist in Residence Monique Gaffney.


Monique Gaffney, Artist in residence at the Thurgood Marshall College, UC San Diego, and creator of "Being Henrietta."


Artist in residence Monique Gaffney talks about creating "Being Henrietta" (being performed at the Arthur Wagner Theater at UC San Diego February 2 at 7 p.m. with a reception at 6 p.m. and expert panel and post performance Q&A).

San Diego's major universities continue an unprecedented year-long academic and cultural exploration of one book -- the best-selling "Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" by Rebecca Skloot.

Part of the cultural celebration of the book is a page-to-stage production at UC San Diego. It's called "Being Henrietta," and it's being created by Monique Gaffney, artist in residence at the Thurgoood Marshall College at UC San Diego. She is a well-known actor here in San Diego and has been a guest on this program in the past.

"Being Henrietta" explores the story of Henrietta Lacks, a poor black woman whose cancer cells-- taken without her knowledge -- became one of the most important tools in medicine but her family today can’t afford access to the health care advances their mother’s cells helped make possible. The work-in-progress is created by current MFA student Jeff Augustin with Monique Gaffney, and directed by Professor Nadine George.

Gaffney had previously created a piece on Anita Hill, and now tackles Lacks. Gaffney sees similarities in the women and even considered doing a theater pice focusing on the two of them. Both women were faced with life altering experiences but while Hill had a choice to make, Lacks had her ability to choose taken away from her. Gaffney hopes that "Being Henrietta" will also remind people of the woman behind what has become a controversial ethics case.

"Being Henrietta" will be performed Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Arthur Wagner Theater on the UC San Diego Campus. A reception will precede the performance at 6 p.m. and afterward, there with be an expert panel and post-performance Q&A. The event is free and open to the public but seating is limited to 100.

The grant for the creation of "Being Henrietta" comes from the San Diego Foundation. To find out more about the program and its Creative Catalyst Fund: Individual Artist Grant, here's a link to the article that came out last year. The La Jolla Playhouse is Gaffney's sponsor and the plan is for "Being Henrietta" to be performed at the Playhouse.

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