Authors Lauren Kessler and Nancy Miller Gomez will discuss the transformative power of words for prison inmates at the Saturday, May 18, meeting of the Manzanita Writers’ Series.

Kessler works with “lifers” in a maximum-security prison while Gomez teaches poetry to men and women held in county jails and prisons in Santa Cruz. The pair will talk about the ways writing can heal, redeem and give meaning to life in prison as well as how the experience has made a difference in their own lives.

Kessler will read from “A Grip of Time: When Prison is Your Life,” based on three years of running writing workshops inside the Oregon State Penitentiary.

“I could teach these men to craft stories,” she said, “They could educate me about prison life. I needed to know — I thought we all needed to know — who these people were that we put away, far away from us, in a country that puts more people in prison than any other country on Earth.”

Kessler is an award-winning author and immersion reporter who combines lively narrative with deep research. She is the author of 10 works of narrative nonfiction. Her work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, O magazine,, Utne Reader and others.

Gomez will read from her poetry chapbook “Punishment,” a 2018 Rattle Poetry Chapbook Selection. Gomez teaches poetry workshops to inmates at Salinas Valley State Prison. These workshops foster creativity and self-expression, providing an opportunity for inmates to transform personal suffering into a shared experience through poems and stories.

Gomez has a Masters in Fine Arts in Writing from Pacific University. Her work has appeared in River Styx, Rattle, The Bellingham Review, Nimrod and elsewhere.

The presentation will start at 7 pm at the Hoffman Center for the Arts, 594 Laneda Avenue. Admission is $7.

For more information, contact Kathie Hightower at

• Kessler will also teach a writing workshop titled “Making Characters Come Alive” from 10 am to 12:30 pm on Saturday, May 18. Tuition is $60. Register at

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