Columbia Forum is a remarkable cultural asset for the communities of the Lower Columbia River but may be overlooked, particularly by those who have moved here in recent years.
Celebrating its 30th season, Columbia Forum was started in 1989 as a way to provide our then-remote area with access to interesting speakers, including many from the “outside world” who would otherwise be unlikely to make public appearances here. Its guests have included our region’s top writers, artists, politicians and newsmakers. Documentary maker Ken Burns and top historian Stephen Ambrose headlined Columbia Forum during the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial period, while more recent guests have included Vanity Fair magazine contributing editor Buzz Bissinger, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “Friday Night Lights” and other books.
Patrick Webb of Long Beach, retired managing editor of the Astorian, said he has always enjoyed going to the Columbia Forum because the variety of topics that broadened his and the audience’s education.
Webb recalls that Knute Berger from Seattle’s Crosscut online news magazine was among memorable journalist speakers. Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio’s expert dissection of the astonishing things he uncovered in the federal budget was a true eye-opener, Webb said. An important aspect of the Columbia Forum is the opportunity to engage in conversations with people like Berger, Bissinger and DeFazio — getting to ask them questions in a thoroughly relaxed setting.
The 30th season is shaping up to include a roster of compelling guests.
• It starts Oct. 29 with Dr. Phil Mote, former Washington state climatologist and current head of the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute at Oregon State University. He’ll be speaking about some of the many myths surrounding climate change with candor that will be illuminating to everyone, no matter what their current opinions may be on the subject.
• November’s guest will be Tom Hallman, Pulitzer Prize-winning feature writer for The Oregonian and part-time resident of the Long Beach Peninsula. Hallman has remarkable gifts for telling the stories of ordinary people in ways that enrich his readers’ lives. His talk may elicit tears and laughter, and will certainly leave attendees grateful to live in the region where he practices journalism.
• In January the forum hosts Seaside native Karl Marlantes, author of “Deep River,” a novel deeply grounded in the immigrant experience on the Lower Columbia. This will be Marlantes’ second time at Columbia Forum, where a discussion of his award-winning 2010 “Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War” was one of that season’s most popular and memorable events.
• February’s talk features Columbia Forum co-founder Steve Forrester discussing his section of the forthcoming history “Eminent Oregonians.” Forrester will highlight his multi-year study of Richard Neuberger, in 1954 the first Democrat to win a U.S. Senate seat from Oregon since 1914, and the first Jewish Oregonian to ascend to such a lofty office. Forrester’s landmark effort explores previously unknown facts about this amazing politician, journalist and author whose life richly deserves to be honored by today’s Oregonians.
• In March, Tom and Sherry Eckardt of the Oregon Psilocybin Society will speak about the Psilocybin Service Initiative, an ongoing effort to legalize the therapeutic use of “magic mushrooms” in the state. In widely publicized news, including on CBS’s 60 Minutes earlier this month, psilocybin is gaining acceptance as a powerful antidepressant and tool for enriching mental wellness. This program may stir special local interest in light of our area’s quiet underground reputation as home to some of the world’s most potent psilocybin mushrooms.
These and other Columbia Forum guests yet to be finalized promise to make the 2019-20 season a perfect time discover this unique program, or become active in it again.
Anyone may attend individual talks for $15, or $35 with a delicious pre-discussion dinner provided by Chef Chris Holen at Baked Alaska, 175 14th St., Suite 100, at the foot of 12th Street on the Astoria waterfront. Columbia Forum members attend lectures for free, or $25 including dinner. Individual memberships are $60; couples $95.
Columbia Forum is sponsored by the Astorian, Coast River Business Journal, KMUN, Cannery Pier Hotel and Spa, Craft3 and the OSU Coastal Oregon Marine Experiment Station. CRBJ/Chinook Observer Publisher Matt Winters is this season’s host.