Interview with Stacy Ratner, Founder of Open Books

By: Kathy Bolano, Communications Intern

Edited by: Kathleen Ferraro, Communications and Membership Coordinator

On Wednesday, February 11, 2015 from 11:30 AM-1:00 PM Stacy Ratner of Open Books will be coming to the Niagara Foundation to speak about the power of literacy. Stacy was honored by the national Forty Women to Watch Over 40 in 2014 for her outstanding work with the literacy programs that Open Books provide the youth of Chicago, as well as with her other literacy-related venture, the Chicago Literacy Alliance.

In 2006, Stacy wanted to make a lasting impact in the community through her love of literature.  She told us how she has been a reader all her life, and she writes a novel every year. At 35 years old, she told herself, “If there is one thing that I want to do for the rest of my life, it should be something that I love.”

Walking around Chicago, there are many problems that are visible. But illiteracy is an invisible issue. “No one knows that the man on the bus cannot read what is on the label of the food he is holding.” Accordingly, Ratner focused on illiteracy. The adult literacy rate in Chicago is at 53%, and it is not hard to find a way to use literature to make a difference. She confided, “this is something I was always going to do, I just didn’t know how.” There is always a way to influence someone even if it just reading to them or opening their world to new possibilities.

Ratner started her literacy ventures by collecting books in her basement and used the profit of her sales to fund her literacy programs. This model has grown out of her basement and into two storefront locations in River North (2009) and Pilsen (2013), as well as a strong online presence. Open Books will also be moving to a new location on May 1, 2015 and be opening it’s doors to the Literacenter, a 38,000 square foot space with the first floor dedicated to the Open Books store, and the second floor dedicated to a shared workspace for over 80 literacy organizations across Chicago, classrooms, and event spaces.

Open Books now runs five instructional programs that are focused on literacy that started with 200 students served in 2007, and grew to serve 4,960 students in 2013-14. Open Books Buddies is a one-on-one reading program for kindergarten through 2nd grade that is volunteer-based reading sessions. Adventures in Creative Writing field trips are creative nonfiction workshops that are open for those in 3rd grade until Seniors in high school. ReadThenWrite teaches reading, writing, and the publishing experience and the Publishing Academy which is a summer camp for those who want to learn how to write novels and publish their works for those in 6th grade through 12th.

Although she was reluctant to pick a favorite of these programs, she confessed to have loved working with the Publish Academy which originally helped a group of students in an English class complete National Novel Writing Month when they weren’t getting much support from their school. Stacy and her staff helped 10 students go from idea to a published novel, gave them exposure on a public access television spot, and threw them a book launch party that overflowed onto the sidewalk. “You are supposed to have your life changing experiences before you open an organization like this, but for me, it was this.” One of Stacy’s future goals is to make a program that works with people beyond high school so that they can take this love of literature and use it to go further in life.

In addition to these workshops, Open Books reaches out and donates books to in classroom lending libraries for school aged children through their program Book Worm Angels, and book grants to nonprofit and social service facilities. In the fiscal year 2013-2014 they had granted an astonishing 94,700 books, and over the holidays they partnered with the Chicago CTA and handed out 500 free children’s books on the Holiday Train. With the added space and resources, she is looking to donating and granting even more books in the coming year.

There are many things that we can learn from Stacy Ratner. If there something that you want to make a difference in, there is always a way. “It is not ‘Can we do better as a city?’ it is that we have to be.”

We are greatly looking forward to hearing more about Stacy Ratner’s experiences and opinions in our open-to-the-public roundtable discussion. This event is complimentary for all members, and $10 for non-members.


Wednesday, February 11

from 11:30 AM – 1:00 PM


205 North Michigan Avenue, Suite 4240

Chicago, IL, US, 60601

The views and opinions expressed on The Falls are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of Niagara Foundation, its staff, other authors, members, partners, or sponsors.