StoryStudio’s Staff

Get to Know Us!

Rebecca Makkai

Artistic Director

Rebecca Makkai is the author of the novel The Great Believers, a finalist for the National Book Award and one of the New York Times’ top ten books of 2018, as well as The Borrower and The Hundred-Year House, and the story collection Music for Wartime. She has taught at the Tin House Writers’ Conference and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and is on the MFA faculties of Sierra Nevada College and Northwestern University.
Rebecca thinks you should read: The Buddha in the Attic, by Julie Otsuka. You think you know how fiction works, but you’ve never seen it work quite like this.
Fun fact: I spent two years of my childhood trying to teach my dogs to talk.

Sarah Kokernot

Program Curator

Sarah Kokernot’s writing has appeared in Crazyhorse, Front Porch, West Branch, The New York Times, and has been anthologized in The Best American Short Stories. Sarah has worked as an educator for over a decade and has taught students from ages four to sixty-four.
Sarah thinks you should read: The classic, Pedro Páramo, by Juan Rulfo.
Fun fact: Someone once told me that my last name comes from the Dutch word for “coconut oil.”

Sara Cutaia

Studio Manager

Sara is originally from Texas, but is proud to be a Chicagoan currently. She is the Editor-in-Chief of the literary magazine Arcturus; she teaches undergrad writing at Roosevelt University; she is an Editor-at-Large for the Chicago Review of Books; and she is currently working on a short story collection.
Sara thinks you should read: The collected works of Flannery O’Connor.
Fun fact: During dinner, I once arm-wrestled a Pulitzer Prize-winning author over the last piece of sushi.

Jennifer Coffeen

Festival Director

Jennifer writes historical romance and mystery with The Wild Rose Press and Musa Publishing (Priceless Deception, A Deal with Lord Devlin). She is a founding member of the kates and performed with Live Lit shows including Write Club, Story Club, Serving the Sentence, and Guts & Glory. Jennifer’s short story “Tooth” (Streetlight Magazine) was nominated for a 2017 Pushcart Prize.
Jen thinks you should read: Just an Ordinary Day by Shirley Jackson
Fun fact: I was once a fire-eater in the vaudeville show Numbskull the Human Blockhead.

Jessica Keller

Managing Director

Jessica is a voracious reader and avid traveler who has lived all throughout the country, as well as China and Japan. She has a Bachelor’s in Creative Writing from the University of Idaho and a Master’s in Public Administration from Northwestern University. She’s been a teacher, recruiter, program director, and a whole lot of other things in education and writing before joining the team at StoryStudio Chicago.
Jessica thinks you should read: Raymond Carver –“What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” and Vladimir Nabokov’s “Speak, Memory.”
Fun fact: I am unafraid of insects, arachnids, and rodents.

Ines Bellina


Ines is a freelance writer, storyteller, and bon vivant. She has performed in live lit shows all over town like You’re Being Ridiculous at Steppenwolf, Miss Spoken, and the Chicago Women’s Funny Festival. Her writing has also appeared in The A.V. Club, The Takeout, The Northwestern Law Reporter and more. She is currently working on a contemporary YA novel that combines her memories of Catholic school with her love of high school musicals.
Ines thinks you should read: Severance by Ling Ma
Fun Fact: At 8 years and counting, Chicago is the longest place I’ve ever lived in.

Jill Pollack


Jill has spent the past 15 years teaching people how to live a life in story. When she started StoryStudio in 2003, she had no idea what it would become. Thanks to you, our family just keeps growing and growing. Now our reach has more than doubled under our new nonprofit. 
Jill thinks you should read: It’s cruel to limit a reading suggestion to just one or two books, but I always recommend Ali Smith’s How To Be Both. The story is told through two first-person narrators and when you buy the book, it’s a crap shoot which narrator you’ll read first. Brilliant.
Fun fact: I have no fun facts about myself as I just keep making sh!t up.

Core Faculty

Core faculty members are experienced StoryStudio instructors. They’ll be serving two-year terms, each in their own specialty genre — both as highlighted regular instructors and as advisors on staff, curriculum, and genre-specific outreach. We’re excited for the ideas, energy, and connections they’ll bring to the studio, and (as these positions are rotating) we look forward to welcoming many other beloved instructors into these roles in the coming years.

  • Dipika Mukherjee — Short Fiction
  • Kenyatta Rogers — Poetry
  • Abby Geni — Novel
  • Jac Jemc — Speculative Fiction
  • Susanna Calkins — Genre Fiction
  • James Klise — Young Adult & Middle Grade
  • Adam Morgan — Publishing
  • Nadine Kenney Johnstone — Memoir & Personal Essay

Want to join the team?