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
Founder

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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 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!

Interns

Danielle Rogers

Danielle grew up on the south-side of Chicago and currently is a senior psychology major at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). Before becoming an Open Books Literacy Intern, she spent much of her time working with other nonprofits including the Wood Family Foundation and Turpin Cares. She also traveled internationally to Spain, Ireland, and France and plans to add many more places to that list. Danielle loves reading all kinds of books and writing anything ranging from poetry to novels. Outside of Open Books, you can find her studying in a Starbucks cafe, at a SoFar Chicago concert, or trying out some new, bizarre event in Chicago like Slide the City.

Julia Morgenstern

Julia is currently a junior at Northwestern University studying English literature and history. She has been reading anything she could get her hands on since she was very young, and is excited to promote her love of reading to kids around the Chicagoland area with Open Books this fall! When she’s not in class or reading, Julia is involved in the International Gender Equality Movement at Northwestern and loves to crochet, go to the theatre, and spend time with her friends.

Stores - Open Books Pilsen

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Maria Vieytez
Bookstore Associate

Maria grew up on Long Island as the oldest of four very close and book-wormy sisters. She attended Swarthmore College where she completed a BA in English Literature and Creative Writing and also discovered the life-altering genius of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Following her nose to the Midwest for graduate school, Maria continued studying medieval literature, learned the true meaning of winter, and, most importantly, discovered Open Books. Moved by her experience as a volunteer in the Reading Buddies program, Maria was eager to continue engaging with literacy work after receiving her MA in Humanities from the University of Chicago. When Maria is not at work, she is likely chasing down neighborhood dogs for a pat, drinking chai tea lattes like they're water, or reading feminist literary criticism.

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
Stacy Ratner - Founder Open Books
Frederick C. Fisher Mayer Brown
Bruce Geier RMS Investment Corp.
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
Natalie Weiss