October 10, 2017

Cottonwood in the Flood

Staged Reading
by Rich Rubin, directed by Damaris Webb

Staged Reading
by Rich Rubin, directed by Damaris Webb

The Theatre Department is teaming up with the Portland-based theatre-maker and the co-director of the Vanport Mosaic, Damaris Webb to present a staged reading of Cottonwood in the Flood, by the local playwright Rich Rubin.

Cottonwood in the Flood tells the story of an African American family during the rise and fall of the newly built city of Vanport on the banks of the Columbia River north of Portland. In 1943 the population of Vanport swelled to nearly 40,000. The majority were African Americans, predominantly from the South, who came to Portland to work in the navy shipyards during


The family, along with other newly arrived shipyard workers struggle with the inherent racial, economic and cultural injustices, and as their hopes are raised and their dreams are dashed, the members of the family do their best to adjust to daily life in Vanport and grab hold of their fair slice of the American pie.  On Memorial Day 1948, the entire city of Vanport is obliterated by a catastrophic flood of the Columbia River, an event that in several discomfiting respects presages the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina nearly six decades later.

The Vanport Flood was a cataclysmic event in the history of Portland destroying the lives of tens of thousands African Americans living here, yet it has often been overlooked in the dominant narrative about the city’s history. Cottonwood in the Flood is an important play that gives voice to memories that have been largely silenced.

The staged reading of the play will feature Lewis & Clark College students and will be directed by Damaris Webb. A screening of Challenging History, a short documentary featuring Vanport survivor Beatrice Gilmore, will precede the reading. The story of the documentary is part of The Vanport Mosaic participatory oral history project. Additionally, Ms. Gilmore will partake in a panel discussion after the reading along with the playwright, Rich Rubin and the local historian Zita Podany, author of Vanport (Arcadia Publishing).

The staged reading will take place on Saturday, November 4th at 2:00PM at the Fir Acres Black Box Theatre at Lewis & Clark College. Attendance is FREE.


The staged reading of Cottonwood in the Flood is made possible by the generous support of:

Dean of Students and the Division of Student Life

The Office of Diversity and Inclusion

The Office of Inclusion and Multicultural Engagement

Ray Warren Symposium on Race and Ethnic Studies

Theatre Department