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An Unreasonable Woman

A True Story of Shrimpers, Politicos, Polluters, and the Fight for Seadrift, Texas

By Diane Wilson


When Diane Wilson, fourth-generation shrimp-boat captain and mother of five, learns that she lives in the most polluted county in the United States, she decides to fight back. She launches a campaign against a multibillion-dollar corporation that has been covering up spills, silencing workers, flouting the EPA, and dumping lethal ethylene dichloride and vinyl chloride into the bays along her beloved Texas Gulf Coast. In an epic tale of bravery, Wilson takes her fight to the courts, to the gates of the chemical plant, and to the halls of power in Austin. Along the way she meets with scorn, bribery, character assassination, and death threats. Finally Wilson realizes that she must break the law to win justice: She resorts to nonviolent disobedience, direct action, and hunger strikes. Wilson’s vivid South Texas dialogue resides somewhere between Alice Walker and William Faulkner, and her dazzling prose brings to mind the magic realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, replete with dreams and prophecies.

Reviews and Praise

Publishers Weekly-
With the discovery that her "piddlin' little county on the Gulf Coast" led the nation in toxic emissions, shrimper Wilson, a mother of five, found herself embarking on a voyage of discovery and activism that would strain her marriage and stretch her horizons. A David up against big-time chemical Goliaths, Wilson is a gifted storyteller, rendering dialogue and pacing plot turns as a novelist might. Anonymous informants, uncomfortable whistleblowers, unanticipated opposition from civic powers and seductive offers of cash bribes pepper this first-person account of Wilson's attempts to save her hometown. Although there are moments when the trail of meetings, memos and petitions seems drawn out, the tell-everything approach reveals how a woman awed to discover "they can lie on TV news! And it is all right!" can learn to master the media. Wilson's hunger-striking, boat-sinking and pole-climbing—combined with the help of a pro bono lawyer and a Greenpeace activist—ultimately wring a "zero tolerance" agreement out of Formosa Plastics and Dow/Union Carbide. Wilson's book is longer than it needs to be, but her Texas twang is catchy, and often spellbinding, as she goes about her mission, sometimes with a child "by one hand and a handful of documents in the other."

Booklist Starred Review-
In the battle to halt the monstrous pollution destroying Texas' Lavaca Bay, it seemed impossible that one little lady could take on a multibillion-dollar international chemical company and win--but win Wilson did. A minimally educated shrimp-boat captain and mother of five, Wilson suffered great personal tragedy, including death threats and divorce, in her frustrating and demoralizing crusade against Formosa Plastic's proposed $1.3 billion expansion of its PVC manufacturing facility in Calhoun County, Texas, already deemed the most toxic district in the country. Armed with nothing more than her deep-seated love for the bay outside her door and an unwavering sense of justice, Wilson almost single-handedly set out to reveal the environmental destruction, worker intimidation, legal machinations, and political manipulation that epitomized Formosa's ruthless business practices. With unbridled passion, Wilson renders her "Diane-versus-Goliath" confrontation in honest and unadorned prose, liberally and gracefully lacing it with passages of heartbreaking lyricism and provocative wisdom that reveal the depth of her commitment. Few people in this world deserve to be called heroes; Wilson assuredly is one of them.

"Don't pick this book up if you want to stay in your comfort zone. Diane's journey is a riveting tale of 'Nothing Is As It Appears.' The environmental agencies we're so proud of simply give out permits to polluters, tweaking a detail here and there. With spunk, verve, and humor, Diane faces down her fears. This story will break your heart wide open."--Ellen Augustine Schwartz, author of Taking Back Our Lives in the Age of Corporate Dominance

Libary Journal Starred Review-

Wilson's story of greed, politics, polluters, and outright dishonesty is one we have unfortunately heard before: big industry tries to bulldoze through permits, regulations, and environmental and worker safety to arrive at a profit. The Seadrift, TX, native doesn't like it when she reads in the paper that her county has the worst pollution in the nation (this was in 1989).

A shrimp boat captain and mother of five, Wilson goes on to discover that a multibillion-dollar corporation, Formosa Plastics, is killing her catch and her friends by dumping toxic chemicals into the bays. And that's not all: agencies that are supposed to watchdog polluters (e.g., the Environmental Protection Agency) do not, and politicians who have a responsibility to their constitutents serve the few, often themselves, first. Even friends betray and threaten, yet Wilson takes action, asking questions, studying, following through. Her story is delivered in an affecting, soft-spoken style that pulls readers in. There is more to be learned from this extraordinary woman than how to fight big industry; let her teach you.