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’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.”
Director of Signature Programs
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 and a novel.
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 writes historical romance with The Wild Rose Press (Priceless Deception, A Deal with Lord Devlin), along with short stories and flash fiction. Her short story “Tooth” was nominated for a 2017 Pushcart Prize. 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 is currently working on Season 2 of Creepy History, a weekly podcast she co-hosts with Fraser Coffeen.
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 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 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.
Youth Programs Manager
Sahar Mustafah is the daughter of Palestinian immigrants, an inheritance she explores in her fiction. Her first novel The Beauty of Your Face was named a 2020 Notable Book and Editor’s Choice by the New York Times Book Review. Her collection of short stories Code of the West won the 2016 Willow Books Fiction Prize. She writes and teaches outside of Chicago.
Sahar thinks you should read: LaRose by Louise Erdrich
Fun fact: Queen Latifah refused to take a selfie with me when I spotted her at Big Sur one summer. She did graciously shake my hand.
Zachary Zalman Green
Zachary Zalman Green hails from New Hampshire. He is a writer, filmmaker, and author of THE NUMBER YOU ARE TRYING TO REACH (Quotidian Press, 2017). His writing has appeared in Tammy, Court Green, interrupture, Whiskey Island, Ilk, Columbia Poetry Review, Jellyfish Magazine, City Pages (Minneapolis’ former alt-weekly newspaper) and elsewhere. His short documentary films have appeared at the New Hampshire Film Festival, Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival, and The Twin Cities Arab Film Festival.
Zach thinks you should read: Actual Air by David Berman (if you can still find a copy).
Fun fact: Denise Richards yelled at me once for giving her the wrong color tape mark to stand on. She was only kidding.
Board of Directors
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.
- Cyn Vargas – Short Fiction
- David Welch – Poetry
- Michael Zapata – Novel
- Julia Fine – Genre Fiction
- Juliet Bond – Young Adult & Middle Grade
- Sahar Mustafah – Youth Programming
- Dionna Griffin-Irons – Performance
- Megan Stielstra — Memoir & Personal Essay