People & the Planet: Authors Yxta Murray & Daniel Selmi Discuss Their New Books

April 20, 2023


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Just in time for Earth Day, take an evening to consider the role of humans in creating and combating climate change and environmental disaster. Yzta Murray’s God Went Like That is a novel that explores the costs of governmental malfeasance and environmental racism. Daniel Selmi’s Dawn at Mineral King Valley: The Sierra Club, the Disney Company, and the Rise of Environmental Law is a history of a legal showdown that launched a new environmental era in America. Yxta and Daniel discuss their books and the lessons they can provide. 

Award-winning legal scholar and novelist Yxta Maya Murray’s new book is an artful and gripping new novel that recounts the human and environmental damage caused by actual disasters in Simi Valley, California. God Went Like That takes the form of an EPA report in which Federal agent Reyna Rodriguez reports on a real-life nuclear reactor meltdown and accidents that occurred in 1959, 1964, and 1968 at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory. An infamous research and development complex in California’s Simi Valley, the lab was eventually dismantled by the US government—but not before it created a toxic legacy of contamination and numerous cancer clusters. Toxins and nuclear residue may have been further released by the 2018 Woolsey Fire and 2019 floods in the area. With imagination and artistry, Murray brings to life an actual 2011 Department of Energy dossier that detailed the catastrophes and the ensuing public health fallout and highlights the high costs of governmental malfeasance and environmental racism.

An expert on environmental law and appellate advocacy, Daniel P. Selmi uses his authoritative narrative voice to recount the complete history of this revolutionary legal battle and the ramifications that continue today, almost 50 years later. Set against the backdrop of the environmental movement that swept the country in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Dawn at Mineral King Valley tells the surprising story of how the US Forest Service, the Disney company, and the Sierra Club each struggled to adapt to the new, rapidly changing political landscape of environmental consciousness in postwar America. In our current age of climate change–induced panic, it’s hard to imagine a time when private groups were not actively enforcing environmental protection laws in the courts. It wasn’t until 1972, however, that a David and Goliath–esque Supreme Court showdown involving the Sierra Club and Disney set a revolutionary legal precedent for the era of environmental activism we live in today.

Yxta Maya Murray is a novelist, art critic, playwright, and law professor. Her most recent books are the story collection The World Doesn’t Work That Way, but It Could, and the novel Art Is Everything. She has won a Whiting Award and an Art Writer’s Grant and has been named a fellow at the Huntington Library for her work on radionuclide contamination in Simi Valley, California.

Daniel P. Selmi is the Fritz B. Burns Chair in Real Property Emeritus at Loyola Law School, Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles.