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

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.

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.

Krystle Goh Kim
Operations Director

Following a brief stint in investment banking/private equity, Krystle Kim has spent over a decade working in the nonprofit world. She has extensive experience in the charter school space, most recently helping to open Great Lakes Academy, a school on the Southeast side of Chicago, and has also served as a consultant for various non-profits serving kids and youth in Chicago and beyond. She is passionate about literacy and education and loves spending her time and leveraging expertise in finance/operations/strategy to help nonprofits run just a little bit better so they can broaden and deepen their impact. Krystle earned an MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and a joint BA in Mathematical Methods in the Social Sciences and Economics. She is a proud mom of two little girls who she thinks will one day change the world.

Marketing & Development

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!

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
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.

Christina Brown
Senior Book & Program 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.

Teaching Artists

Ella Sands

Ella is excited to join the Teaching Artist team, having started as a Reading Buddies site leader in several schools across Chicago. She is originally from London, England, where she worked as an elementary school teacher for 6 years. Ella has never grown out of her love of children's books and is continually adding to her own picture book collection! She is currently trying to write a children's novel about ice cream in Victorian England. When she isn't reading or writing, Ella can be found halfway up a bouldering wall, or adhering to the British stereotype of drinking copious amounts of tea.

Jenn Oswald

During the school year, Jenn is a Teaching Artist and educator across Chicago, focusing on writing and theatre for social change with middle and high school students. This is her third school year teaching with Open Books and she is very very excited to be back! In addition to her work as a TA, she works with parents in North Lawndale to help their students accomplish reading goals as the Programs and Engagement Specialist for Turning The Page. She is also the Director of Summer Education Programs for Great River Shakespeare Festival in Winona, MN, where she has been spending her summers since 2013. She can most often be found with a large black coffee in hand and JUST finally read the Hunger Games series (she knows that she's a decade late to the bandwagon but holymoly let's talk about it).

Savy Leiser

Savy Leiser is an author and journalist who loves sharing the joy of creative writing with students of all ages. In June of 2019, she graduated from DePaul University with her Master's in Writing & Publishing, and also holds a Bachelor of Arts from Northwestern University. In addition to teaching at Open Books, Savy works as a music journalist for Halftime Magazine and Yamaha SupportEd Magazine, and she runs the small business The Furever Home Friends, where she writes books and creates stuffed animals to help support real rescue dogs in Chicago.

Hajrije Kolimja

Hajrije was born in the middle of Albania and raised in the middle of America, on the periphery of Chicago. After graduating from DePaul University with Distinction having studied Creative Writing and Philosophy, she joined the Open Books team as a Literacy Intern. She left for a year to embark on a Fulbright Scholarship in Albania where she created the first youth writing program in her host city. Now, she has returned to Open Books to carry on her mission of creating community through the written word. She loves to read novels written by women in diasporic communities and is at work on a few writing projects.

Volunteering

Safa Asad
Volunteer Coordinator

Safa was born and raised on the north side of Chicago. She graduated with a degree in Psychology from the University of Illinois at Chicago and spent time doing research in Early Childhood Development. Growing up an avid reader and having spent most of her life volunteering in her community, Safa decided to combine both her passions and started at Open Books as a CreativeWriting Wordshop volunteer and later joined the Open Books staff as their Volunteer Coordinator. As a former Chicago Public School alum, Safa’s goal is to help students exceed standard academic benchmarks and cultivate a love for reading. She will read anything, loves to complain that there's nothing left to watch on Netflix, has convinced herself she would win the Great British Bake Off, and prays for the day Chicago sports teams return to their former glory.

Interns

Stores - Open Books Pilsen

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.

Marlo Koch
Book Donations Coordinator

Marlo holds an MFA in Studio Art from the University of Illinois at Chicago and is a practicing writer originally from the suburbs of Chicago. She has previously worked as an academic editor, and is currently the Managing Editor of Chicago Artists Writers, a review publication focused covering smaller, overlooked exhibitions and projects in Chicago. She is always excited to talk to people about books and writing. As the Donation Coordinator, she enjoys fostering connections between Open Books and other organizations, companies, and individuals who are passionate about literacy.

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.

Veronica Hapman
Bookstore Associate

Veronica was born and raised in Southwest Michigan, where she wasted long summer hours reading in her backyard. This passion brought her to Michigan State University to study English Literature and Psychology, and to work at the Writing Center promoting literacy among her fellow students. Immediately following graduation she moved to Chicago where she began her journey with Open Books as a Literacy Intern in the Reading Buddies program. After spending the last few years working within the city's restaurant scene, she's made her way back to her roots in her dream job at the West Loop bookstore. When she's not in the store, or at her other job at a fitness studio, she loves to spend her free time cooking, listening to a range of music, attempting to play guitar, obsessing over 90 Day Fiance, and bothering her cat, Milton.

Board of Directors

Evan Trent - Chair Adtalem Global Education
Denise Schwartz - Vice Chair Epstein Schwartz Legal Search
Anne Matz - Secretary inquirED
Brian Acks - Treasurer Vouch
Brandon Copple Greentarget Global Group
Lisa Howyun Dong MBA Candidate, Kellogg School of Management
Colleen Foley Marketing Research Horizon Therapeutics
Matt Kreis Center for Community Progress
Sara Gilley Krivoshia Cornerstone Research
Josh Leavitt MATH Venture Partners
Allison Lipsman Flexibly Focused
Megan McCoy Aon Hewitt
Dan Ratner Public Good Software
Stacy Ratner - Founder Open Books
Wendy Uptain Robert R. McCormick Foundation
Stephanie Vasconcellos Mayer Brown
Natalie Weiss