The team at the heart of Open Books are energetic, entrepreneurial, and just slightly eccentric book-lovers from a wide span of backgrounds and with a vast spectrum of interests. Collectively, we have decades of experience in business, education, retail, development, law, finance, writing, and pursuits of all kinds. What ties us together is our absolute belief in the power of literacy — and our dedication to sharing it with our city.

Executive, Finance, & Operations

Stacy Ratner

Stacy Ratner

Founder

Thirtysomething years ago, Stacy learned to read. This life-changing experience led to degrees in law and literature, allowed her to help take three startup companies from idea through a combined total of $30 million in committed venture funding, and finally inspired her to start Open Books in her basement in 2006. She is delighted to have received a Chicagoan of the Year 2015 nod from Chicago Magazine, an Emerging Leader Fellowship from the Chicago Community Trust, places on NewCity’s Lit 50 and the national 40 Women To Watch Over 40 list, the Social Enterprise Alliance’s Innovation award, and recognition on the White House’s official blog for “spreading the infinite and awesome power of books,” but is most proud just to be part of the incredible team at Open Books. Stacy writes a novel every year, eats ice cream every day, and is always starting something. And, yes: her hair really is green.
Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien

Executive Director

Raised by an English teacher and a lawyer, Tim became obsessed with the written word from an early age and spent most of his childhood either buried in books or attempting to find loopholes. Tim has degrees in business administration and law, which led to jobs litigating disputes between corporations, teaching law students, and advising elected government officials. While all fascinating in their own rights, Tim never felt at home until he found Open Books, where he volunteered in the bookstore and served in leadership roles on both the Board of Directors and the Associate Board before joining the Open Books team full-time. When not busy reading more books than he can complete, you can find Tim running, calling out plot holes in movies, or cooking with his wife in their Old Town home.
Ryan Jackson

Ryan Jackson

Operations Director

Ryan has spent the last two decades immersed in the used book world, and is very excited to now be part of the Open Books team. He grew up in New Jersey and North Carolina (to Massachusetts parents, thus resulting in a very odd mix of pronunciation and diction), coming to the great Midwest to attend the University of Chicago. While there he tried to read everything that was assigned (seemingly impossible), somehow graduated, and today continues to try to read everything he is interested in (definitely impossible). When he’s not meandering through the store or opening random boxes in the warehouse, you can find him walking through Humboldt Park with his two dogs, searching for odd records, climbing through thrift stores for old audio equipment, or playing 16” softball.
David Watkins

David Watkins

Finance Director

David grew up outside of Tampa and has gradually moved northward. Prior to joining Open Books as a bookstore volunteer, he spent most of the previous decade as an actuary, and the rest of the decade not being an actuary. When not at work, he can be found avoiding sunlight and ingesting various cold forms of caffeine. At the risk of sounding like the most generic person on the planet — he’s only ninth, since he’s under 60 and knows how to play bridge — he enjoys books, movies, music, word puzzles, games of all sorts, and the occasional animated or odd TV show. His favorite film is Miller’s Crossing, his favorite flavor of Slurpee is banana, and he does not have the high score on the Ms. Pac-Man machine closest to his office. David startles easily if approached in the wild, but if you remain motionless, you might induce him to eat a cheeseburger right out of your hand.

Maria Miranda

Maria Miranda

Development Director

Eight years ago, Maria wandered into the Open Books River North bookstore in search of a copy of the House on Mango Street. Nowadays, she applies more than a decade of experience in nonprofit management, resource development, events, communications, and board development as the Development Director at Open Books. Through her professional experience, she has supported and been a team member at various educational, arts, culture and social justice nonprofits across Chicago. Her associations include Chicago Women in Philanthropy and the Association of Fundraising Professionals. Maria studied fundraising and nonprofit management at DePaul University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree. You can find Maria reading poetry, sipping cappuccinos at brunch, and checking out live concerts around Chicago.
Curtis Shaw Flagg

Curtis Shaw Flagg

Marketing Director

Curtis is an Illinois-native who began his course with Open Books as a Reading Buddy at McCutcheon Elementary school. With a background in Biology, but a love for literacy, he began to speak the gospel of Open Books programs to anyone that would listen. This eventually earned him a place at the associate board table and, consequently, a spot on the Executive Committee serving as Chair. He continues to spread the word about Open Books as an executive member of the staff. You can still see him walking around neighborhoods and events around Chicago, wearing an Open Books t-shirt and talking about the bookstore and other programs to anyone who gives him the time of day!

Programs

Cary Mele

Cary Mele

Program Director

Cary is a graduate of Augustana College in the Quad Cities, where she majored in Elementary Education. After spending a short time working in the public school system, she left the classroom to take on a role as an editor at a major educational publishing company where she developed reading curriculum for the K-8 market. During this time, she also earned a Master’s Degree in Literacy from DePaul University. In 2012, after serving as an Open Books volunteer and Associate Board member, Cary joined the Open Books staff where she now is able to utilize her knowledge and passion for early literacy development to help support students around Chicago.
Jaya Mukherjee

Jaya Mukherjee

Program Manager

Originally from the Chicagoland area, Jaya traveled to New York and Dublin for school before finally setting in Los Angeles. After working as an elementary special educator for the Compton Unified School District for three years, she is excited to join the Open Books team to talk books, literacy, and writing with kids in Chicago. When Jaya is not at Open Books, you can find her downing a cup of coffee at a local cafe working on her screenplay, novel, or twitter stalking Salman Rushdie.
Anika Bierig

Anika Bierig

Program Coordinator

Anika was born and raised in Chicago, attending public schools throughout the city. After initially pursuing dance as a career, she graduated from the University of Iowa in 2010 with a BA in English literature. Since then she’s worked with children, traveled and learned Spanish while living in Argentina. She loves 20th century fiction and any short story she can get her hands on. Combining her passions for public education, reading and children, Anika began volunteering with Open Books. As the Buddies Coordinator she hopes to use her background and love for the city to spread literacy awareness and excitement to all parts of Chicago.
Atalissa Dean

Atalissa Dean

Program Coordinator

Atti began as an Open Books literacy intern, serving as a Summer Buddies site leader in the summer of 2013. After gaining valuable work experience in other fields, she made her way back to our team as a Teaching Artist for both Creative Writing Workshops and ReadThenWrite during the 2015-2016 school year. Atti‘s familiarity with all of Open Books programing coupled with her extensive background as a swim coach makes her a natural leader in the classroom. She has been working on curriculum revision for our workshops, and will be the full-time coordinator for Creative Writing Workshops.
Jessica Mitolo

Jessica Mitolo

Teaching Artist

More about Jess coming soon!
Mallory Blink

Mallory Blink

ReadThenWrite Intern

Mallory Blink is excited to have temporarily left the south suburbs of Chicago and live in a big city for the first time in her life while participating in a city-based program called Chicago Semester.  She will graduate from Trinity Christian College with an English major and minors in Theology and History. Until then, she is looking forward to experiencing life in the city and her internship at Open Books. After all, what English major does not love being surrounded by books? This semester, she is taking an “arts in the city” class and will get to see art galleries, music and dance performances, and theater productions. In her downtime she plans on visiting bookshops, perhaps catching a couple of her favorite bands in concert, possibly seeing Hamilton if luck permits, and of course, seeking out good places to eat in Chicago. She is excited to see what comes next after she graduates.

Volunteers

Vallisha Dennis

Vallisha Dennis

Volunteer Manager

Born and raised in St. Louis, MO, Vallisha (known by many as Val) found a love for reading as a preteen. The introduction of various books by her father, such as: Choose Your Own Adventure Books, autobiographies, and biographies taught her to appreciate literature and life. As Val began high school, she had a pretty hefty book collection and became a literacy advocate. Val’s favorite books are Random Family by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc and The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. Val studied Social Work, African American Studies and Education at Saint Louis University; and is an AmeriCorps alumni. In her free time, she enjoys cooking; reading; collecting scarves, books, and movies; amusement parks, beaches, and running. One of Val’s favorite quotes is by Bill WIlson: “To the world you may be one person, but to one person you may be the world.” This quote inspires her to constantly do good and put good into the world, by working hard at being a selfless individual.

Stores

Open Books Pilsen

Christina Brown

Christina Brown

Book Coordinator

Christina began volunteering at Open Books in the summer of 2011 and she’s thrilled to have infiltrated the staff. She graduated from Roosevelt University with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and enjoys having a good rant whenever correlation is confused with causation or whenever writers lie about how the brain works. Her passion for reading and writing manifested early in life. As a toddler she would scribble neat rows of gibberish next to her drawings and wander the house crying, “I want to read!” Once she did become literate, her love of the written word only became stronger. Although she is trying to read more stories set in the real world (or at least constrained by real-world physics), she prefers plots that feature zombies, time travel, or screwball comedy (ideally all three). In her spare time she writes fiction that she refuses to share with anyone.
Denise Wilkerson

Denise Wilkerson

Book Operations Manager

Born and raised in Japan, Denise has been in Chicago for about thirteen years after living on both coasts and the Lake District in the UK. She loves cooking, reading, and reading about cooking and eating food in other countries, as well as Chicago. Much of the time she feels more Japanese than she does American and still encounters things about this country that surprise her. Nevertheless, onward and upward!
Jeremy Leithold-Patt

Jeremy Leithold-Patt

Book Coordinator

Jeremy started volunteering with Open Books in 2012 and immediately became enamored with the store. He is thrilled to now be working at the Pilsen location and have a job where he can spend his days with books and forward the cause of literacy. Jeremy grew up in Skokie, IL in the suburbs of Chicago and currently resides in Rogers Park. When he is not reading science fiction or comic books he is most likely doing something extremely nerdy like playing Magic the Gathering or re-watching Firefly for the umpteenth time.
Steve Owens

Steve Owens

Book Coordinator

Steve was born in Cleveland, moved to Los Angeles as a teen, spent nearly a decade in New York, and now finds himself, after a brief stint back in California, in Chicago without particular rhyme or reason. He stumbled into Open Books in simple hopes of promoting literacy and meeting some fellow readers; before he knew it, he was moving heavy stuff in and out of Pilsen Warehouse most days of the week. In addition to reading, Steve enjoys tacos, Johnny Thunders, kettlebells and the Cleveland Cavs/Indians.
Maggie Needham

Maggie Needham

Book Grant Fellow

Maggie first stepped into Open Books during a wizard rock concert in the bookstore in 2013. (Wizard rock is a genre of music about the Harry Potter series, of course.) She became a literacy intern during the next summer, and volunteered with the Publishing Academy the summer after that. Maggie graduated from Saint Louis University in 2015 with a major in English and minors in French and theology. After graduating, she joined the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, working for a year in Boston with an after-school program. Now that she has moved back to Chicago, she is thrilled to be spending her time surrounded by as many books and booklovers as possible. Hobbies include memorizing every lyric in Hamilton and timing herself complete the RedEye crossword.
Howard Ruan

Howard Ruan

Book Donation Manager

Howard is a native Chicagoan and graduate of Shimer College, where he received a B.A. in Humanities in 2012. After spending a year studying abroad in Oxford, England, he realized that theory was nothing without praxis, so he began seeking volunteer and employment opportunities with organizations committed to social justice. He found Open Books, and that story continues to this day. His reading list is comprised mostly of Buddhist classics and philosophy, 19th- and 20th-century Chinese history, and postmodern/contemporary literature. His favorite book is Moby Dick. Books aside, Howard is also a faithful Soto Zen practitioner and a proud metalhead.

Open Books West Loop

Dominic Loise

Dominic Loise

Bookstore Manager

Dominic shares his life with his wife Jenna , one of our city’s librarians, and their two rabbits. He came to Open Books as a customer that started to volunteer at both the Pilsen Warehouse and the River North Store. Dominic was brought on staff for the bookstore in the Pilsen Warehouse, which was declared that next year The Best Hidden Bookstore in the Chicago Reader Best Issue. He has enjoyed working with the West Loop community and Literacenter in building the new West Loop location. Though he has had multiple Superman encounters in his life, none seem to match up to the one he read about in Tell Me A Trudy as a child.
Zylon Tokash

Zylon Tokash

Bookstore Manager

Zylon graduated with a major in English and minor in linguistics from SUNY New Paltz in 2013. He spent his last two years working at his college’s library. A few weeks after graduating, he moved to Chicago, transitioning from a world where he was literally and figuratively immersed in books to a new city, where his Ikea bookshelf served as his only connection to the literary world. He missed working at the library and talking to patrons and the environment of books, so when he found out about a volunteer opportunity with Open Books he was ecstatic to get started.
Nancy Vintilla

Nancy Vintilla

Book Associate

Raised in Cleveland, Nancy lived in Ann Arbor, Boston, and San Francisco before settling in Pittsburgh to raise boys [fun!] and work in employee benefits [not fun, but important.] After moving to Chicago, she began volunteering at the Open Books store, with side trips to the warehouse, office and summer reading programs. Now a bookstore staffer, she loves meeting new customers, sorting through the awesome donations, and hosting Storytimes for our West Loop kids. Generally a nonfiction reader, she’s also a fan of Ian McEwan and Hilary Mantel, and can be found biking, sewing, grave-hunting, watching scary movies, and sampling the many stouts and head cheeses available in Chicago.
Alice Corcoran

Alice Corcoran

Book Associate

Alice started out as a volunteer at the Open Books Bookstore, and was thrilled to be offered a position as a staff member. Alice has lived most of her life in Chicago, with brief sojourns to Texas and California when she was a toddler and Boston when she was a college student. In between dodging crazed Red Sox fans and even more crazed trolleys she managed to earn a degree in Linguistics, so if you say hello to her in a foreign language she may understand you. After a lifetime of reading science fiction and fantasy she has recently discovered the joys of non-fiction, so recommendations in either vein are most welcome! Her current contenders for the title of Favorite Book are Connie Willis’s To Say Nothing of the Dog and Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policeman’s Union.
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Board of Directors

J. Dirk Vos, Chair Alpha Capital
Evan Trent, Vice Chair Heidrick & Struggles
Natalie Weiss, Treasurer
Christie Hoyt, Secretary Museum of Science and Industry
Stacy Ratner, Founder Open Books

Ron Blumenthal Kaplan Higher Education
Christine Cucinotta Reading Specialist
Josh Damon Uptake
Frederick C. Fisher Mayer Brown
Bruce Geier RMS Investment Corp.
Matthew Green J.P. Morgan
Minah Hall True Partners Consulting
Matt Kreis Center for Community Progress
Sara Gilley Krivoshia Cornerstone Research
Jennifer Levy Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School
Allison Lipsman One Million Degrees
Anne Matz National Center for Teacher Residencies
Megan McCoy Aon Hewitt
Dan Ratner Public Good Software