“What is the Chicago Literacy Alliance?” by S.M. O’Connor

The co-founders of the Chicago Literacy Alliance discovered at a meeting in 2009 that unbeknownst to them, all of them were active in the same school, Schiller Elementary School.  They concluded that to avoid duplication of effort at some schools, and assure they did not overlook others, they should communicate with each other more frequently and began to coordinate joint efforts, one of which was Literacy Nights.  In 2012, they formed the Chicago Literary Alliance.

The Chicago Literacy Alliance opened the Literacenter in May of 2015 with eighteen member organizations as North America’s first non-profit shared workspace devoted to literacy.  It received the 2016 Library of Congress Literacy Awards Best Practice Award.

The 27,000-square-foot workspace has couches, armchairs, communal tables, private carrels, group workstations, and open lounges.  The fifteen meeting rooms and conference rooms can accommodate anywhere from two people to 100 people.  There are two large event spaces for parties and celebrations.  The LitLounge has foosball, shuffleboard, ping pong, Rock Bandm Wii, board games, televisions, movie projection, kitchen, and two pianos.  There are five Literascooters for getting around the place.

641wlakeFigure 1 Credit: Courtesy of the Chicago Literacy Alliance Caption: This is the street entrance of 641 West Lake Street.

32-LiteracenterFigure 2 Credit: © Tim Benson 2015 Courtesy of the Chicago Literacy Alliance Caption: These are the “Spiny Stairs” at the Chicago Literacy Alliance.

atlantis1Figure 3 Credit: Courtesy of the Chicago Literacy Alliance Caption: This is Atlantis (the Island of Dr. MoRoom) at the Chicago Literacy Alliance.

TheIsland1Figure 4 Credit: Courtesy of the Chicago Literacy Alliance Caption: This is the Island of Dr. MoRoom at the Chicago Literacy Alliance.

rooms-middleearth1Figure 5 Credit: Courtesy of the Chicago Literacy Alliance Caption: This is Middle Earth at the Chicago Literacy Alliance.

ct-open-books-office-tour-bsi-photos-20160304-003Figure 6 Credit: Courtesy of the Chicago Literacy Alliance Caption: This is LitLounge at the Chicago Literacy Alliance.

33-LiteracenterFigure 7 Credit: Courtesy of the Chicago Literacy Alliance Caption: This is the foosball table in the LitLounge at the Chicago Literacy Alliance.

literascootersFigure 8 Credit: Courtesy of the Chicago Literacy Alliance Caption: These are the Literascooters at the Chicago Literacy Alliance.


In November of 2016, the Chicago Literacy Alliance announced that “49% of Chicago’s fourth graders were below basic reading proficiency, 30% of adults in the city have low basic literacy skills, and 882,000 of them would benefit from basic literacy services.  Low literacy has a large impact on our society.  It costs Americans $80,000,000,000 in lost productivity each year and 66% of students who cannot read proficiently by the fourth grade will end up in jail or on welfare.  Many groups are working to change this, but only one organization brings them together, the Chicago Literacy Alliance.”

The member organizations are 826CHI; the A.A.R.P. Foundation’s Experience Corps Chicago; A.F.S.C.M.E. 3506; The American Writers Museum; the Anixter Center; the Bennett Day School; the Big Shoulders Fund®; Bookwallah; Companies That Care; the Center for the Collaborative Classroom; Centro RomeroChicago Books to Women in Prison; Chicago Cares; Chicago Children’s Museum; the Chicago Citywide Literacy Coalition; the Chicago Foundation for Education; Chicago Hopes for Kids; The Chicago Home Tutor; the Chicago Debate Commission; Chicago Lights: A Community Outreach Organization at Fourth Presbyterian Church; the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame; the Chicago Public Schools Department of Literacy; the Chicago Review of Books; Chicago Tutoring Connection; Chicago Youth Shakespeare; the Chicago Youth Voices Network; the Children’s Literacy Initiative; The Children’s Reading Foundation of Greater Chicago; the Chinese Mutual Aid Association; Classroom, Inc.; College Possible™; Communities In Schools | Chicago; the Community Writing Project; Companions Journeying Together, Inc.; Concordia University Chicago’s Center for Literacy; CONTEXTOS; Contratiempo; the C.S.C. Consulting Group; CROWDED learning; Designers for Learning; the David L. Hoyt Education Foundation; Dream Big Performing Arts Workshop; East Village Youth Program; Edovo; E.L. Education; Emerald City Theatre; EmpowerLD; The Feltre School; Foundations of Music; Free Write Chicago; Future Hits; GirlForward; Goodman Theatre; The Graide Network; Guild Literacy Complex; H.E.A.R.T.; the Howard Area Community Center; iAchieve Learning, L.L.C.; the Indo-American Center; Infiniteach; Ingenuity; Innovare Social Innovation Partners; Innovations for Learning; the insight project for kids; INSPIRE GIRLS ACADEMY; The iSpeak Media Foundation; Jane Addams Resource Corporation; KaZoom Kids iStoryBooks; Kids Like Us; KPMG’s Family for Literacy; Union Latina de Chicago/Latino Union of Chicago; Launch U; Leading with Literacy; L.E.A.P. (Language Empowers All People); Literacy Chicago; Literacy Works; L.V.I. (Literacy Volunteers of Illinois); Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago; The Junior League of Chicago’s Mad Hatters; the Midtown Educational Foundation; Mumkin Studio; Near North Community Program; Newsela; Open Books; Pangea Educational Development; the People’s Resource Center; Poetic License, Inc.; The Chicago Poetry Center; Poetry Pals; the Polk Bros. Foundation Center for Urban Education at DePaul University; Reach Out & Read; ReadAskChat™; The ReadEasy; Readers Ignite; Reading Between the Lines; Reading Difficulty Solutions; Reading in Motion; The Reading M.D.; Reading Specialists of Illinois; Reading With Pictures; Revolving Door Arts Foundation; Roots of Success; the Sarah Connell Coaching Corporation; the Schuler Scholar Program; The Simple Good; SitStayRead; the Smart Chicago Collaborative; St. Joseph Services; Turning the Page Chicago; Tutoring Chicago; the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Center for Literacy; Umoja Student Development Corporation; The University of Chicago Graham School Writer’s Studio; UNSILENCE: HIDDEN STORIES OF HUMAN RIGHTS; The Viola Project; VOCEL; W.I.T.S. (Working in the Schools) Chicago; Writers Theatre; Writopia Lab | Chicago Metro; W.T.T.W. 11; and Young Chicago Authors.  They range from large, well-funded organizations to shoe-string operations.  Please also note that Sarah Connell is a person, not an organization.  She is a memoirist and life coach with a side business helping other writers overcome self-doubt and navigate the publishing industry.  Some of the member organizations are housed at the Literacenter.  Others attend programs, form partnerships, serve students, and create collaborations at the Literacenter.

Ken Bigger became the Executive Director in January of 2018.  Lawyer and entrepreneur Stacy Ratner is a Co-Founder.  Jimmy Martin is the Operations Director.  Jen Daniels-Lake is the Network Director.  Chelsea Dowty is the Development Manager.  Michelle Alridge is the Program Coordinator.  Shannon Findley is the Finance Manager.  Erin McCann is the Community Manager.  Jamie Roberts is the Marketing Manager.  Cassandra Rose is a Community Coordinator and Harrison Downs is a Part-time Community Coordinator.

The Literacenter is one block east of 90/94, three blocks west of the Ogilvie Transportation Center and four blocks west of the Chicago River, and four blocks north of Old St. Patrick’s Catholic Church.  The address of the Literacenter is 641 West Lake Street, Suite 200, Chicago, Illinois 60661.  The phone number is (312) 690-4227.

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