2019 PRESENTERS


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Samira Ahmed

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Samira Ahmed is the New York Times-bestselling author of the unforgettable young adult novels, Love, Hate & Other Filters and Internment, as well as the forthcoming novel, Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know.

Born in Bombay India and raised outside of Chicago, Illinois, Samira spent countless hours at the library in her small hometown nestled in an oversized armchair next to an old Victorian fireplace with her nose in an Agatha Christie novel or re-reading Little Women, hoping that Jo would somehow end up with Laurie this time. Samira always loved to write—especially poetry–but never actually dreamed of becoming a writer until she was an adult and an idea for a story captured her imagination and wouldn’t let go.

She received her BA and MAT from the University of Chicago and went on to teach high school English in both the suburbs of Chicago and the New York City Public Schools. After she left the classroom, she worked in education non-profits, helping to create more than seventy small high schools in New York City and fought to secure billions of dollars in public school funding throughout New York State.

Love, Hate, & Other Filters, Samira’s searing debut novel, marks the first time a Muslim author’s work of realistic fiction has ever appeared on the New York Times Bestseller list. The coming-of-age story was inspired by her own encounters with racism as a child and an alarming rise in hate crimes throughout the United States.

These days, Samira lives with her family in Chicago, Illinois. When she’s not writing or reading, she can be found on her lifelong quest for the perfect pastry.


Trisha Daab

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Trisha Daab is an author, mom/not-so-evil stepmom and food lover. She is the author of two books about Disney World: Tasting the Magic from A-Z: The Best Food and Beverages at Walt Disney World and The Not-So-Evil Stepmother in the Most Magical Place on Earth: Planning Your Walt Disney World Family Vacation. She is also the co-host of a Disney food segment on the DizRadio podcast. According to her sons and husband, she takes way too many pictures at Disney. 

Trisha has been visiting Disney since she her first trip at 3 years old in the 80's. She even has a VERY embarrassing picture with Chewbacca in all of her coke-bottle- glasses-and-90's-hair glory. Writing books about Disney World has been the perfect excuse to visit the parks more frequently, eat a lot of Disney food, and get new pictures with Chewy. 


Gnat and Corky

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A child who will go blind. A big sister who is a light catcher for her special needs brother. An actor who loves to speak in puns. A boy from the Philippines who started the Happy Animals Club. A little girl who loves to paint the dreams in her head; these are the kids that are honored in the Gnat & Corky Series, and each story holds a metaphor, meaning and place inside the heart of universality. Gnat & Corky are an author/illustrator duo who do what has never been done before-a 16-book series that is based on the spirit of real kids. Author, Courtney Kotloski, interviews children and finds the metaphor of their spirit, while illustrator, Natalie Sorrentino brings their story to life with paint. Each story holds a universal metaphor brought forth with powerful and whimsical illustrations that are hand drawn and painted with watercolor. The Gnat & Corky Series is a collection of universal stories that bring light, laughter, understanding, beauty, and joy to the world.


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Carl Hauck

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Carl Hauck is a solo acoustic artist and a member of Chicago indie rock band Sunjacket, whose debut LP Mantra was described by Stereogum as "expansive exploration of human compulsions." He has released five self-recorded albums, including 2017's Vestige EP, which is available for free download on Bandcamp.


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Jim Love

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Jim Love was born and raised in the south side of Chicago. Jim attended Marquette University, graduated in 2013 with degrees in Corporate Communications and Marketing, and currently resides in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. After years of exploring leadership development, Jim has decided to follow a calling and spread his message of authenticity and positivity. He has spoken to several thousand high school students across the country. Bad jokes and dance moves aside, Jim has a passion for leadership development and working with high school and college students. He will share his life experiences and connect with you on a personal and real level. As a lifelong stutterer, he understands what it takes to overcome obstacles and adversity and will motivate the crowd to take on their own obstacles in a real way. His message focuses on authentic leadership, self-love, gratitude and mental health.  Some say he “brings the party.”


Kenny Metroff

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Kenny has his BA in Acting & Theater Education from THE Illinois State University, as well as over 10 years experience performing and teaching comedy in Chicago and on the high seas with Second City onboard Norwegian Cruise Lines. He is an alumni of The Second City Graduate & Conservatory Programs, and can be seen performing on their studio stages. He is also an alumni at the iO Chicago, Annoyance, and ComedySportz theaters. For 10 years Kenny directed the immensely talented Droppin' $cience improv troupe from Columbia College Chicago, where they won the College Improv Tournament National Championship. He served as Education Director and instructor with pH Comedy Theater as well. His biggest accomplishment to date is raising a beautiful son with his amazing wife... and receiving a World Series ring from the Chicago Cubs! 


Morry Sochat & The Special 20s

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Morry Sochat and The Special 20’s are bringing a fresh sound to the Chicago Blues scene. They mix classic Chicago Blues with Swing and Rock N’ Roll from the 1950’s. The band is influenced by the best in blues history. Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Louis Jordan, Junior Wells, and all of the Chicago greats.

Morry Sochat (pronounced Socket) moved to Chicago from Texas in 1990. He started playing harmonica in 2000, taking lessons from renowned teacher, Joe Filisko at the Old Town School of Folk Music. He played with The Shakes and Tongue & Groove before starting The Special 20s in 2005. Their first, self-titled release, recorded in 2006, was received with great reviews, taking the 20s from playing one or two nights a month to constant bookings all over the city. Morry has been playing around the city learning from the greats in Chicago, playing with Dave Specter, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, Billy Flynn and Barrelhouse Chuck.

In 2007, Sochat took the next step and went out on his own. He hired some of the best musicians in Chicago to round out The Special 20s. In 2008, they returned to the studio to record a new CD. The recording Swingin’ Shufflin’ Smokin’ was produced by Nick Moss and featured Ted Beranis, Kenny Smith, Dave Ross, Nick Krebs, Shoji Naito, and Jim St. Marie. The CD was also met with rave reviews. This opened up doors for the band across the US.

In 2010 Morry took the band back to the studio to release Eatin’ Dirt. The CD was produced by Jimmy Sutton, and features 10 original songs. The band has grown in both skill level and size, adding a horn section on a lot of the songs. Eating’ Dirt was a sound expansion for the band.  It was the first CD that brought in the horn section.  The recording featured the line up of  Marty Binder, Doug Corcoran, Shoji Naito, Chris Neal, Jim St. Marie and Ted Beranis. It has special guests Billy Flynn, Dave Hererro, and Brother John on the CD.  The sound is vintage with a modern feel.

The new album, Dig In was released on November 24th, 2015.  It was recorded with the same band as Eatin’ Dirt with the addition of Billy Flynn.  Tim Bluhm, from the Mother Hips, produced the CD.  It was a crazy recording session.  We got 19 inches of snow on the first day.  The album came out great!!!


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POETS WITH CLASS

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Our workshops teach the craft of writing and creative performance to empower and engage students and community members of all ages, K through college and beyond. Poets with Class’s teaching and touring artists boasts some of Chicago’s most accomplished writers and performers, all of whom have extensive backgrounds in theater, poetry, and education.Last year, Poets with Class worked with approximately 8,000 students across Chicago. Our workshops build confidence in public speaking and expand students’ capacities and excitement in literacy and fine arts.