• About Us

    About Us

Our Mission

Literature for All of Us uses books and writing to facilitate circles of connection, healing and growth in the face of social inequity. By inviting participants to explore the transformative power of their own voices, we help build resilience.

Our Values

    We value
    • Literature as a means to make connections and discover strength and meaning in our lives
    • Writing as a way to access our voices, share our stories, and free our imaginations
    • Shared learning and dialogue in safe environments of mutual respect
    • The inherent strengths of individuals, families and communities
    • Equity and social justice

Our Vision

We envision a world where everyone regardless of race, class, culture, or gender identity, has opportunities to access their voices, embrace meaning in their lives and imagine possibilities for their futures.



  • Erin BrownSenior Program Officer

    Erin Brown

    Senior Program Officer

    Marty KezonTeaching Artist

    Marty Kezon

    Teaching Artist

    Ruth Orme-JohnsonDirector of Program Operations

    Ruth Orme-Johnson

    Director of Program Operations

    Joe ShanskyManager of Communications and Campaigns

    Joe Shansky

    Manager of Communications and Campaigns

    Sonia VelázquezExecutive Director

    Sonia Velázquez

    Executive Director

    Erika Wade Manager of Finance and Administration

    Erika Wade

    Manager of Finance and Administration

  • Emily Argentine

    Emily Argentine is a native of Ohio who joined the Board in 2018. She will be assisting the Finance Committee and Corporate Giving. She works with financial institutions to mitigate money laundering opportunities and enhance risk compliance methods. She is also a certified SCUBA diver and enjoys going to the theater as often as possible. She is a lifelong bookworm and chatterbox who loves to share the joy of reading and is excited to be working with LFAOU to share this passion for reading with Chicago and the surrounding communities.

    Libby Bankoff

    Libby Bankoff, now retired from the Clinical Psychology faculty of Northwestern University, joined the LFAOU Board in 2016. She has served on numerous civic boards and school based committees, including twice serving as President of the League of Women Voters of Wilmette. Libby was a Children’s Great Books Leader where she delighted in the growth of each child as they explored and discussed the written word. An avid reader and member of three book clubs, Libby and her husband live in Wilmette. They are taking advantage of their retirement by traveling extensively in order to experience other cultures.

    Jessica Chethik

    Co-founder of All for All Consulting, Jessica Chethik, joined the LFAOU Board in 2018. At CD Consulting, she helps connect community organizations and businesses to schools in order to open dialogue, create understanding, and break down barriers to social progress. Previously, Jessica ran educational programs for Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago (CRFC), a civic education non-profit that works with Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and taught middle school language arts and social studies at a CPS school. A lover of books who feels strongly that people of every age need to feel that they are part of a community, Jessica is passionate about LFAOU’s mission and believes that coming together over literature is a wonderful way to listen, learn, share and grow.

    Claire Goulding

    With a diverse background in psychology and business, Claire Goulding has owned a small business, managed practice development for a large public accounting firm, consulted with federal, state and local governments, and counseled clients in job transition. Outside of her own family, Claire’s most rewarding work has been leading an educational foundation to ignite a passion for learning with students grades K-12. Writing, photography, book clubs and empowering young women have also added rich layers to Claire’s life. She joined the LFAOU board in 2017.

    Jennifer Grau

    Jennifer Grau joined the LFAOU Board in 2012, feeling a strong tie to the organization's mission of personal transformation, equity and social justice. A career educator, Jennifer spent a decade working as a special education teacher for the Chicago Public Schools and took a hiatus while she received her MBA from Tulane University. She has an affinity for event planning and helping others. Jennifer lives in Chicago and spends her time volunteering, traveling, ballroom dancing and loving her puppy, Clementine.

    Loretta Kaplan

    After taking a one year hiatus, Loretta Kaplan rejoins the Board of LFAOU. She and her husband raised their four children in Northfield where Loretta continues her community involvement. In addition, she serves on the Northshore Giving Circle of the Chicago Foundation for Women, the Alumni Advisory Board of Lake Forest Academy, and the National Machinery Foundation.

    Paul N. Keller

    Paul Keller joined the LFAOU board in 2017. He is a retired partner from Ancel Glink Diamond Bush DiCianni & Krafthefer where he advised and represented a wide range of governmental entities. Currently, Paul serves as Assistant Chancellor of the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago, is director and general counsel of the Kuling American School Association, and is on the board of The Lady Elgin Foundation. Paul values helping people connect to their inner life and to their community through reading and writing. A certified scuba instructor who enjoys playing multiple musical instruments and reading his favorite poetry. Paul lives in Lincoln Park.

    Donna Landsman

    Donna Landsman found LFAOU through participation in a book group run by its founder and joined the board in 2016. A semi-retired physician, Donna discovered new passion and meaning in the wake of a life changing personal event. She has lived in Lincoln Park for more than 20 years, where she raised her children. She is pleased to utilize her assessment and problem solving skills to empower young adults.

    Karona Mason

    A podiatric physician working in academic medicine, Karona Mason joined the LFAOU board in 2017. Karona has worked in private practice, and at Provident Hospital on the Southside of Chicago. Through her own personal experiences and interactions, she understands the need for children and young adults to have a voice. She lives in Oak Lawn with her husband and her tuba-playing teenage daughter and can be found at Chicagoland festivals that celebrate diverse cultures.

    Tamara McKnight

    Tamara McKnight joined the LFAOU board in 2017 and is serving as Treasurer. A lifelong community volunteer, Tamara was taken with the mission of LFAOU after learning about the organization at a fundraising event. With degrees and certificates in Computer and Information Science and accounting, Tamara is SVP of a Life Sciences consulting firm, The Evanston Group. Tamara is an avid reader who loves to travel. Empty nesters, she and her husband live in Lakeview in Chicago.

    Beth Uyenco

    Beth Uyenco joined the board of Literature for All of Us in 2015 and currently serves as board president. Prior to running her own marketing research consultancy, Beth worked in the field of media research serving in a variety of leadership capacities for comScore, Microsoft Advertising and Omnicom. A staunch Chicagoan, she and her family love to explore the city's rich culture. With that abiding love for her city is a deep concern for the daily struggles faced by its youth.

    Sonia Velazquez

    For more than 30 years, Sonia Velazquez has been a leader and advocate working to advance social issues around the globe. She has led partnerships with public and private organizations, and in communities and worked with numerous boards and volunteers. Most recently, she served as Executive Director of the ECLT Foundation in Geneva, Switzerland. In addition to Literature for All of Us, Sonia serves on the boards of the National Association on Counsel for Children, the Changing Children’s World Foundation, and on the advisory committee of a project funded by the US Department of Labor aiming to eliminate child labor. She is a published author on issues of immigration and child welfare and father engagement, and blogs on issues of child labor.

    Julie Victor

    A career social worker, now in private practice, Julie Victor joined the LFAOU board in 2013 and currently serves as co-chair on the Board Development Committee. Passionate about personal growth and community development, Julie worked in Chicago Public Schools where she experienced the profound impact that school based opportunities can offer children and teens. Julie and her family live in Chicago where they love taking advantage of the many unique and diverse experiences living in the city of Chicago has to offer.

    Lindsey Wade

    Lindsey Wade is an Adult Education Instructor and Employment Case Manager at Howard Area Community Center, where she works to reduce recidivism among the prison reentry population and deliver economic empowerment to other underprivileged populations. She is also a graduate student in the Master of Public Administration program at University of Illinois at Chicago, where she studies Public Policy. Lindsey is a former participant of LFAOU’s teen mom book group. She found those three years of participation so impactful on her life that she was inspired to give back to the organization through service work and leadership. Lindsey currently lives in Evanston with her three children, two cats, and bearded dragon and enjoys assisting with animal welfare causes in her free time.

    Newlin O. Wollaston

    Newlin O. Wollaston has been in the financial services industry for over 20 years and is currently a Private Client Advisor for JP Morgan Chase. He also serves as the Assistant Pastor of his local church located in Chicago's southside inner city.

    Najolie Wright

    Najolie Wright joined the board of directors in 2018. She came to Literature for All of Us as a book group participant in 2004. Her book group experience fueled her passion for reading and writing leading her to become a teacher. Najolie enjoys offering her skills and passion while learning alongside her students and their families. Najolie lives in Evanston, IL with her two children. She plans on returning to college. In her spare time, Najolie loves to read and write and being a stage performer.

    Liz McCabe

    A longtime volunteer, Liz McCabe joined the board in 2018 after several years on the Junior Board and 9 years as the LFAOU coordinator of Chicagoland’s Poetry Out Loud contest (a program of the Illinois Arts Council, the Poetry Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts). Liz holds a Ph.D. in English from Northwestern, where she now leads the faculty cohort of the Chicago Field Studies program and works closely with the Center for Civic Engagement. Her teaching and research interests range from Victorian literature, to representations of labor and office culture, to political theory, Chicago history, and social justice frameworks. She shoehorns poetry into all of her courses and endlessly celebrates the communal power of people coming together around poems and books.
  • Kathy Bresler Sue Brodarick
    Marilynn J. Cason Patty Coghlan
    Carol Lynn Connell Barbara Disko
    Susan Doctors Howard S. Dubin
    Noreen Edwards Mary Erickson
    Tom Figel Rozellyn Gibson
    Carol Gifford Jennifer Grau
    Mildred Harris Keri Holleb Hotaling
    Susan K. Kaden Lissa Karron
    Judy Keller Ann Lagory
    Lisa E. Lewis Nancy Liebman
    Chic Marasa Iris Marreck
    Casandra Melton Leslie J. Millenson
    Helen Moshak Bonnie Oberman
    Ann Ohlrogge Johnson Michele Pockross
    Elizabeth Posner Roberta Rubin
    Sandra Shane-DuBow Eileen L. Share
    Rob Simmons Debbie Smith
    Susan Sneider Linda Stevenson
    Eliseo Thorrens Rekha Tobaccowala
    Angela Valavanis Jan Valukas
    Bernice Weissbourd Denise Philip Winter

  • Sandra Cisneros
    Aaron Coleman
    Abby Geni
    Jane Hamilton
    Joy Harjo
    Cristina Henriquez
    Nami Mun
    Sara Paretsky
    Diane Seuss
    Barbara A. Shapiro
    Anna Solomon
    Gail Tsukiyama
    Dawn Turner
  • The purpose of the Junior Board is to further Literature for All of Us' mission by building awareness of the organization with young people, supporting outreach initiatives and organizing small fundraisers. Members are people who value literature, philanthropy and social justice and are typically between the ages of 20 - 40.

    Timothy Avant
    Nathalie Lagerfeld
    Katie Martin
    Liz McCabe
    Katie Shatto
    Karen Shimmin
    Rebecca Stevens
  • Our Founder

    Karen Thomson

    Karen Thomson is the founder of Literature for All of Us and served as our first Executive Director.

    As a professional book group leader, Karen has been making literature come alive through book groups discussion since 1981. In 1997, she created Literature for All of Us to bring her work to at-risk youth.

    Founding Literature for All of Us was an adventure of the heart. She began with a group of fourteen teen mothers on welfare who were enrolled in a Chicago’s Southside G.E.D. program. Karen introduced these young women to using literature as a means to look inward, to understand themselves better and to create relationships in which it was safe to share these discoveries. Personal resilience was built and interpersonal relationship were made. Karen intuitively created the model that Literature for All of Us uses today: opening each book group meeting with a ritual, reading aloud out from culturally-relevant literature, having a facilitated group discussion and writing poetry from their personal reflections. The impact was profound. Program attendance on Book Group day doubled. The young mothers returned to the nurturing circle of the book group week after week to read books, (to) write poetry, and to discuss their struggles and triumphs. The GED program requested more groups and Literature for All of Us came into being.

    Literature for All of Us now offers over twenty book groups sin Chicago and Evanston reaching over 700 low-income (young) people each year, including young parents and their children. Until her retirement as Executive Director in June 2018, Karen continued to facilitate book groups at Literature for All of Us.

    Karen has trained educators, community service providers, and others to replicate her transformative, life-affirming literacy education model. She has facilitated women’s literary retreats for girls and teen mothers. She has created and taught literature courses for community colleges. Karen holds a B.A. in Literature from Wheaton College and an M.A.T. from Northwestern University. Karen is a published author, writing on book group leadership and the Literature for All of Us program.

    Her most recent honors associated with her work in Literature for All of Us include:

    • Lifetime Achievement Award, Chicago Writers’ Association, 2015
    • Inspire Award, Circle Foundation, 2012
    • Mayor’s Award for the Arts, City of Evanston, 2009
    • Harlequin More than Words Award, Harlequin, 2009
    • Those Who Make a Difference Award, Family Focus of Evanston, 2003
    • Mercedes Mentor Award, Mercedes-Benz USA, 2002
    • Rosa Williams Women in Ministry Award, Lake Street Church, Evanston, Illinois, 2000
    • Studs Terkel Humanitarian Service Award, Illinois Humanities Council, 1999
    • Nominee, Hartstein Award for Academic Excellence in Teaching, Oakton College, 1991

    Karen traveled to the White House in January 2006 to receive the “Coming Up Taller Award” for excellence in programming from the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities.

    A mother of four and grandmother of three, Karen loves to read, study, and write poetry for which she has won awards. Karen continues to lead adult book groups.