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

Stacy Ratner

Stacy has been reading for forty years, starting companies for twenty, and on the Open Books journey of a lifetime since its founding in her basement on May 1, 2006. Her previous experience includes degrees in law and literature, taking three startups from idea through a combined total of $30 million in committed venture funding, and writing a novel every year. Stacy is delighted to have received a Chicagoan of the Year 2015 nod from Chicago Magazine, an Emerging Leader Fellowship from the Chicago Community Trust, and the Social Enterprise Alliance’s Innovation award, but is most proud just to be part of the incredible team at Open Books. She will receive her MBA from the Kellogg School of Management in 2018.

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
Operations 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.

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.

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!


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.

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
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
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.


Alison Gerber
Volunteer Coordinator

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!


Kelsey Dame

Originally from the Chicagoland area, Kelsey moved to Detroit with her family when she was young. It was that summer that she fell in love with books. After spending half her life away, she returned to Chicago to attend Loyola University Chicago, where she is currently in her final semester as an English creative writing major, with minors in studio art and philosophy. As a kid, Kelsey turned to books for adventures that she couldn't have in person, whether it was back to Chicago to visit old friends or to imaginary kingdoms in faraway lands.

Meghan Gresk

Meghan is a Wisconsin native who began her love affair with reading by powering through series like The Boxcar Children and The Baby Sitters Club at a young age. When she got a little older, she realized that she could write her own stories. and that love of writing didn't die over the next 10 years. Searching for a challenging and rewarding creative writing program, Meghan finally settled into Northwestern University and was accepted to the creative writing program for her junior year with a concentration in poetry. Meghan will graduate from Northwestern in June 2018. When she's not studying or reading, Meghan can be found spending time with her friends and volunteering at the Sheil Catholic Center on the Northwestern campus or knitting her friends scarves while catching up on her favorite shows. After grueling hours of writing long poetry, Meghan looks forward to reigniting her love of books by bringing the power of literacy into the lives of younger students.

Mira Hayward

A native Oregonian, Mira moved to Chicago in the fall of 2017. A life-long book lover (obsessive?), she majored in hanging around old books (otherwise known as "history") at Harvard, graduating in 2017. She's excited to learn more about the world of literacy non-profits while working as a Literacy Intern. When not at Open Books, she can be found in the Impressionists section of the Art Institute, or watching bad movies, eating good food, and reading almost anything.

Hajrije Kolimja

Hajrije is a recent graduate of DePaul University, holding a BA in both Creative Writing and Philosophy. She began working within literacy programs at her local library in high school and, since then, she has not been able to stop. She has volunteered with Working in the Schools (WITS) and interned at 826Chicago (826CHI). Those, and her other experiences within editing, literary scouting, and research, have made her eager to bring what students have taught her over the years to Open Books, and she wonders what other tricks and tales they’re going to bestow upon her. Outside of Open Books, she is a poet with the collective Poems While You Wait as well as a freelance writing coach. She really would love to have a capybara, the world’s largest rodent, because… have you seen them?

Amy Malakoff

Amy attended public school in Tampa, Florida, engulfed entirely by literature of every form. After devoting over four years of study in poetry and prose, she is currently attending the University of Illinois at Chicago majoring in English with a concentration in Creative Writing. She discovered Open Books almost immediately into this midwestern adventure, becoming a volunteer at Jungman Elementary before securing her position as an intern. She is thrilled to have the chance to promote literacy through Open Books and will continue to do so wherever she goes.

Stores - Open Books Pilsen

Christina Brown
Book Coordinator

Christina began volunteering at Open Books in the summer of 2011 and joined the staff in 2012. She has a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Roosevelt University and enjoys having a good rant whenever correlation is confused with causation or writers lie about how the brain works. She enjoys reading almost any kind of speculative fiction or horror (psychological and supernatural). In her spare time, aside from watching too many television shows inspired by comic books, she writes fiction that she refuses to share with anyone. She will gladly eat all of your sweets.

Denise Wilkerson
Book Operations Manager

Made in Japan, Denise has been in Chicago for awhile now after living all over the place. She loves cooking, reading, and reading about cooking and eating food where it can be found (but not on the ground). She started volunteering at Open Books in 2011 and working part-time in 2012 before managing the warehouse, all in Pilsen.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Nancy Vintilla
Bookstore 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 Storytime 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
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

J. Dirk Vos - Chair Alpha Capital
Evan Trent - Vice Chair HBR Consulting
Natalie Weiss - Treasurer
Brian Acks - Secretary CNA Insurance
Stacy Ratner - Founder Open Books
Tim O’Brien - Executive Director Open Books
Christine Cucinotta Reading Specialist
Frederick C. Fisher Mayer Brown
Bruce Geier RMS Investment Corp.
Minah Hall True Partners Consulting
Matt Kreis Center for Community Progress
Sara Gilley Krivoshia Cornerstone Research
Allison Lipsman One Million Degrees
Anne Matz National Center for Teacher Residencies
Megan McCoy Aon Hewitt
Dan Ratner Public Good Software
Denise Schwartz Epstein Schwartz Legal Search
Robin Steans Steans Family Foundation