by: PHOTO BY ALICIA DICKERSON GRIFFITH/FOUR LEGGED FRIEND - Rick Woodford, author of 'Feed Your Best Friend Better' will lead off the Ledding Cultural Forum on Feb. 7. He is pictured offering an apple to Raleigh, one of his dogs.First Thursdays in Milwaukie will be more interesting with the debut of the Ledding Library’s Cultural Forum on Feb. 7.

Library staff has wanted to put together a type of event to build the kind of audience that the poetry series has, so the staff asked the Library Board to take on the project, said Laura Gamble, the co-chairwoman of the Ledding Cultural Forum committee.

“There is a need for this in Milwaukie, where the cultural opportunities are few and far between, and the library is the cultural center” of the city, Gamble added.

People don’t have to drive to Portland to hear authors speak, these talks “are free and just down the street and they offer a variety of genres and topics to appeal to a broad audience,” Gamble noted.

Committee members created a list of potential local authors, and co-chairwoman Kathy Gannett began to focus on the writers.

“I did some Internet research and read the author’s books, to make sure they were appropriate and interesting. And I was lucky enough to find many of their email addresses on the web, and I reached out to them. They were all very interested and flattered and happy to come,” Gannett said.

Rick Woodford

The group chose to start the forum with Portland author Rick Woodford, whose book “Feed Your Best Friend Better” explains his approach to making home-cooked, nutritious meals for dogs. The book also is a collection of easy and convenient recipes.

“I’m a dog lover, and there are so many people out there who are also dog lovers, and his story is so touching,” Gannett said.

Woodford was inspired to write the book, because his own dog, Jackson, was diagnosed with lymphoma and given nine months to live.  

“I started feeding him homemade meals to encourage him to eat, but it did more than that; real food gave him energy, the ability to fight his cancer and eventually assisted him in going into remission. Jackson lived four more years — cancer free,” Woodford said.

When people found out about Jackson, they asked Woodford to help feed their pets, so he started a dog food business that specialized in helping dogs with serious diseases.

“I want to help other people who simply love their dogs and want to give them really great nutrition without breaking the bank or spending hours at the stove,” he added.

“Feed Your Best Friend Better” is a book about “food, nutrition and health that takes really complex information about dogs and presents it in an approachable manner for pet owners. It is a book for anybody concerned about their dog’s health,” Woodford said.

“Fresh foods are filled with helpful, easy-to-provide additives, and the purpose of my book was to help people find ways to incorporate them into their dog’s diets in ways that are easy and fun.”

Woodford said he wanted to be part of the cultural forum, because writing the book was a pretty solitary experience, and he is looking forward to reaching out to people, receiving their feedback and hearing stories about their dogs.

“I grew up in Gladstone and visited the Ledding Library often as a kid, so it’s an honor to not only see my book in their stacks, but also to speak at their author’s series. I really appreciate the opportunity to meet readers and provide answers to any questions that they have,” Woodford said.

To add to the congenial atmosphere, Jill Younce, owner of the Painted Lady Coffee House in Milwaukie, will provide coffee and dog-bone cookies for humans, at the event, Gamble added.

Upcoming authors

In choosing the authors for the cultural forum, the committee sought out “a mix of topics that was both strictly local and much broader than local,” Gamble said, noting that the next presenter on March 7 will be Randy Gragg, editor of Portland Monthly magazine.

He is “certainly a well-known Portland personality and such a good writer,” Gamble said.

Gragg worked for The Oregonian for nearly 20 years, writing about art, cultural politics, architecture and urban design and planning; he was also a leading columnist for the paper’s Sunday op/ed page.

In spring 2009, he took over as editor of Portland Monthly.

“He has a critical eye and is so articulate; he is one of the most interesting personalities we have in this area. It is beneficial to society to have people like him who are capable of looking at things from a different perspective,” Gamble said.

Mike Richardson, founder of Milwaukie’s Dark Horse Comics, will speak on April 4. And, on May 2, Laura Foster, author of “Portland Hill Walks,” will bring a Power Point presentation on walks that “are about as local as you can get,” Gamble said.

Other writers include Brian Doyle, who will talk about his book “Mink River” on June 6, and Matt Love, who will make a presentation on Oct. 10, with his book “Of Walking in Rain.”

The committee is looking for published authors to fill two slots in September and November.

All the authors will bring their books to the event, both to sell and sign, and will participate in a question-and-answer session after they speak.

Future plans

Gamble and Gannett expressed gratitude to the Clackamas County Cultural Coalition and Oregon Cultural Trust for giving the committee a grant for partial funding of the cultural forum.

“We are already looking ahead to doing this again in 2014, but we are going to look to the community to help support this project. We are looking for corporate sponsors from the business community,” Gamble said.

“We are looking for a wide variety of topics, for the true Oregon experience. This is a good opportunity to hear what people who love living in this state have written,” Gannett said.

The forum is an opportunity “to provide youths and adults with materials to open their eyes and expose them to other experiences and other cultures. It shows them the power of language and how professional writers work. It is an opportunity for people to ask questions and have some dialogue” with these authors, Gamble said.

What will audiences like best about the Ledding Cultural Forum?

“If they are interested in a particular writer or subject — that could draw them in. It is also in a welcoming environment, where they can talk with others and engage one-on-one with professional writers whose work they admire,” Gamble said.

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