Meet the Team

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.

Executive, Finance, & Operations

Ryan P. Jackson
Managing Director

Ryan has spent the last two decades immersed in the used book world, and is very excited to be part of the Open Books team. He grew up in New Jersey and North Carolina, 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 in his basement in Portage Park building furniture, searching for odd records, hanging out with his wife and two dogs, or playing 16” softball. He is also proud to have been appointed The Honorable Chief Justice for Make the Case.

Stacy Ratner
Founder

Fortysomething years ago, Stacy learned to read. This transformative experience has led to degrees in literature (Brandeis University), law (Boston College Law School) and business (Kellogg School of Management), taking three startups from idea through national rollout and a combined total of $30 million in committed venture funding, and founding two of Chicago’s most colorful literacy organizations: Open Books, which provides programs to 5,000 K-12 students and gives away 150,000 books each year, and the Chicago Literacy Alliance, whose 130+ members serve more than 18 million people of all ages and literacy levels annually. Both organizations make their homes at the 50,000 sqft Literacenter, America’s first shared workspace dedicated to literacy. Stacy has been named a Chicagoan of the Year by Chicago Magazine, an Emerging Leader Fellow by the Chicago Community Trust, the winner of the Social Enterprise Alliance’s international Innovation award, and a Kellogg Youn Impact Scholar, but is most proud just to be part of the incredible Open Books team. She eats ice cream every day, writes a novel every year, and is always starting something.

Eric Johnson
Executive Director

Eric Johnson joined Open Books as Executive Director in November 2018. Eric most recently served as the Senior Director of Philanthropic Partnerships with Building Educated Leaders for Life (BELL), a national organization focused on closing the academic achievement gap among pre-K–8th grade students through evidence-based, out-of-school-time programs. Prior to BELL, he served as the Director of Development and Capacity at the Illinois Network of Charter Schools (INCS), Chief Development Officer at the Golden Apple Foundation, and the Director of Development and Communication for the Inner-City Teaching Corps, now known as the Accelerate Institute.

Eric received his B.A. in Sociology at the University of Virginia, his M.S. in Learning & Organizational Change at Northwestern University's School of Education and Social Policy, and his Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE) credential. He lives in the Roscoe Village neighborhood of Chicago with his wife, Anissa, and two daughters, Ella and Isla.

Marketing & Development

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
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!

Dan Gaeta
Volunteer Marketing Coordinator

Dan was born and raised in the Garden State of New Jersey. He has been a resident of the West Loop since moving here as a newlywed almost eighteen years ago. Dan began as a volunteer at Open Books, assisting with our writing workshops. With a background in sales and marketing, he felt he had a particular set of skills that could serve us behind the scenes as well. He is focused on spreading awareness and cultivating partnerships in the neighborhood he has called home for so long. When not at Open Books, Dan spends his free time traveling, snowboarding, cooking or frequenting many of the fine restaurants and pubs in the West Loop.

Programs

Cary Mele
Program Director

Cary holds a B.A. in Education from Augustana College and a Master's of Education in Literacy from DePaul University. She has experience working in the public school system, as well as 7 years of editorial experience in the field of educational publishing. She first got involved with Open Books when she brought her publishing colleagues to volunteer for as writing coaches as part of a corporate volunteer day. Soon after, she joined the Associate Board and served as co-chair for Team Bookin’ It. In 2012, Cary joined the staff full time and has been devoted to sharing the love of reading and writing with students ever since.

Anika Bierig
Program Manager

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
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.

Maggie Needham
Book/Programs Coordinator

Maggie grew up in Chicago, raised by parents who unabashedly fed her reading obsession. She first stepped into Open Books in 2013 for a wizard rock concert in the bookstore. (Wizard rock is a genre of music about the Harry Potter series, of course.) Maggie studied English at Saint Louis University, but she spent her summers back in Chicago volunteering and interning with Open Books. After graduation, she moved to Boston to work at an after-school program through the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. When she returned to Chicago, she was thrilled to join Open Books staff; she is so grateful to serve young people and encourage their writing. Hobbies include baking sourdough and doing the NYT crossword.

Valeria Osornio
Storytime Coordinator

Valeria was born and raised in Pilsen, she grew up volunteering and working in the Community of as a mentor and coordinator assistant. She obtained an Associate in Arts degree from Chicago Community Colleges in 2015. While initially continuing school to pursue a career in music education she was able to reconnect with her passion for books and graduated with a Bachelors degree in English Literature from Southern Illinois University Carbondale in 2018. Since then she continues to nurture her love of music, by sharing videos of herself singing on her Ukulele, and working on her goals which are to make a difference in her community and to finish writing her very first Latino Science Fiction novel.

Volunteering

Alison Gerber
Volunteer and Development Manager

Alison grew up in the west suburbs of Chicago, after which she attended Macalester College in Saint Paul, MN. After graduating with a BA in History and an ultimate frisbee obsession, she made her way back to Chicago to serve as an AmeriCorps member at Bowen High School. After two years serving as a college access coach, she decided she wanted to help other people get connected to volunteer opportunities and serve with students here in Chicago. She is very excited to be part of the team here at Open Books!

Interns

William Trlak

William is a native of the great city of Chicago. He knew that he loved reading and literature ever since he was on a first-name-basis with his local librarian as a young boy. He is a rising second-year at the University of Chicago studying Comparative Literature and Anthropology (for now). When he is not reading, you can find him writing stuff down, watching Veep, or trying to figure out what to eat for his next meal. He is super excited to be at Open Books, spreading the joys of reading and writing with anyone who will listen.

Cailtin Moran

Caitlin is a junior at Dominican University, where she majors in English and minors in Graphic Design and Italian. As the daughter of an English teacher, Caitlin’s life has been saturated with love of the written word, and she hopes to bring that passion to the Open Books community. She finds freedom in language, and she hopes to share that liberation with students. Additionally, Caitlin aspires to attend graduate school in Chicago and to establish herself in Chicago’s literary landscape. Beyond reading and writing, Caitlin enjoys cooking, embroidering, and listening to podcasts.

Leah Kindler

Leah was born and raised right outside of Chicago in Oak Park. She is currently in a B.F.A. creative writing program in Boston at Emerson College. She fell in love with reading as a kid and began to write poetry in middle school. Since then, she’s performed at countless poetry slams and wants to give other kids the same opportunities. Besides interning at Open Books, she’s spending her summer as a barista at a co-op grocery store. You can catch her eating a buttermilk bar at Stan’s Donuts or exploring the city with her friends.

Machaela Whitlock

Machaela is a junior at Trinity Christian College pursuing a B.A. in English with a minor in Graphic Design. If it’s between 1-3pm, you can find Machaela chugging coffee (with extra cream, extra sugar). Any other time, you can find her baking unhealthy desserts or attending local theatre performances all across Chicago. For as long as she can remember, Machaela has always been a massive nerd when it comes to literacy. She’s excited to join the Open Books team and gain a real-word experience that not only gives her editing/publishing knowledge, but also inspires young readers to be excited about books.

Stores - Open Books Pilsen

Brian Weza
Book Donation Coordinator

Brian is a creature of the Pacific Northwest. After dabbling at a few colleges in a two states he attended University of Illinois at Chicago majoring in English with a concentration in creative writing. He began volunteering with Open Books in January 2018 through the creative writing field trips, and is thrilled to now be working in the literacy world full-time. When not zipping around in the books-mobile, these are some of the activities that Brian can be found doing: playing music, going to music and art shows, reading, writing, cycling, petting a cat or dog, listening to baseball, shooting hoops, skateboarding, having heart-to-hearts, sitting in a park.

Jeremy Leithold-Patt
Book Coordinator

Jeremy (AKA the Book Monster) has been volunteering with Open Books since 2012 and has been a staff member since 2015. He is thrilled to have a job where he can spend his days with books and forward the cause of literacy. When he is not at work he is either reading science fiction, gardening, or re-watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Chris Salmon
Book Operations Manager

Chris was born in Denver, but grew up outside of Detroit. After living in Ann Arbor while completing his BS in philosophy (with a minor in literature) at Eastern Michigan University, he moved to Chicago in the fall of 2001. His life in the book business began with part-time work while in college and has continued to this day, almost uninterrupted. When not managing the Pilsen store and warehouse, he can be found running tables at a nearby pool hall or futilely trying to catch up on all of the books that he's intended to get to over the last 25 years.

Steve Owens
Book Coordinator

In his three years in Chicago, Steve has seen his hairline recede, the bounds of the city contract (figuratively speaking), and the sanity of the country erode. It seems only his aims, of which he was entirely absent at the outset, have stood undiminished over this time. Of course, that’s hardly the case. In our age, every week sees the arrival of more promo codes, tentpole sequels and haute hamburgers. Steve monitors these developments with great interest, as they are no doubt testaments to the fact that now more than ever, we live in the best of times.

Stores - Open Books West Loop

Dominic Loise
Bookstore Manager

Upon graduating from the University of Iowa, Dominic was a Store Manger at Crown Books for almost five years. After a decade and a half in the world of corporate recruitment, he comes back to the world of literacy via Open Books. Growing up with a learning disability, Dominic was not an engaged reader in grade school. With dedicated parents and a great public library, Dominic eventually took to reading (and is now married to a librarian). His philosophy to all readers is- The right book at the right time.

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.

Alice Corcoran
Bookstore 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.

Board of Directors

Evan Trent - Chair HBR Consulting
Denise Schwartz - Vice Chair Epstein Schwartz Legal Search
Anne Matz - Secretary National Center for Teacher Residencies
Brian Acks - Treasurer CNA Insurance
Brandon Copple Greentarget Global Group
Matt Kreis Center for Community Progress
Sara Gilley Krivoshia Cornerstone Research
Allison Lipsman One Million Degrees
Megan McCoy Aon Hewitt
Dan Ratner Public Good Software
Stacy Ratner - Founder Open Books
Natalie Weiss