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2023-2024 Judges

Judges for the program are community members who are leaders in the local poetry and writing community, and are invested in education, activism, community organizing and youth development.

Judges also ensure that we select students that represent the program's values of civic engagement, literary excellence, and social impact/social justice. 

See the Judges' Rubric below

(shout out to the National Youth Laureate & Oakland Youth Poet Laureate Programs for their guidance)

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Arlene Biala


Arlene Biala (she/her) is a Pinay poet and performance artist born in San Francisco, CA and raised in the South Bay. She has been participating in poetry performances and workshops in the Bay Area for over 30 years and was Poet Laureate of Santa Clara County for 2016 and 2017. She is the author of several collections of poetry: bone, continental drift, and her beckoning hands, which won the 2015 American Book Award. Her latest book, one inch punch, was published in 2019.

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Tshaka Campbell


Tshaka Campbell is the first black, Santa Clara County Poet Laureate and has authored three books of poetry entitled TARMAN, MUTED WHISPERS, STUFF, I will write more, and  TUNNEL VISION with one more on the way entitled  LETTERS TO MY DAUGHTER.  His words have been featured in Bridges Review, BBC UK, Fall Lines Vol X, Speakeasy vol 1, Liminal Animals, Rigorous magazine, among others. Tshaka is 2024 Periplus fellow and  poetry editor for Caesura literary journal and various of their poetry anthologies.  A city of Milpitas and city of Sunnyvale commendation in the arts award recipient, he has also collaborated on projects with the World Health Organization (WHO), the De Young Museum in San Francisco, the NUMU and Triton museums, as well sits on the Board of Directors for Silicon Valley Creates arts council and Poetry Center San Jose. He has partnered with the Silicon Valley Transit Authority and community members to deliver youth programs centered around expanding poetry and literature and is a 2024 Periplus fellow. He has 4 spoken word albums entitled ONEBLOODLINES, SKIN vol.1; and his most recent release NKISI is currently available on all streaming platforms. Tshaka has collaborated on a number of musical projects in the House, Jazz and Blues genres as well as on national commercials.  He currently resides in California and continues to ask the world to “Listen Different!”. 

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Andrea López


Andrea López is an active youth mentor, writer, and literary enthusiast. A Creative Writing graduate from Cal State, Monterey Bay, Andrea devoted herself to empowering youth to strengthen their voice through Poetry & Personal Narrative workshops. Once an English teacher, now a Community Relations organizer, Andrea still strives to bring forth new opportunities for youth to experience and thrive in. Andrea also serves in The Tech Interactive’s Community Advisory Council to help expand audience welcoming, belonging, and inclusion efforts.

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Mighty Mike McGee


Mighty Mike McGee is a well-traveled stand-up poet from San José, California, but he has hobo'd his way around the United States, Canada and throughout Europe since 2002. McGee has performed comedy and poetry in thousands of cities and towns for millions of ears. McGee was appointed Poet Laureate of Santa Clara County (Silicon Valley) for 2018 & 2019 and serves on the Poetry Center San José Board of Directors. He is one of the best known and liked people in the world of chatty writers.

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Janice Lobo Sapigao


Janice Lobo Sapigao is a Filipina American writer from the San Francisco Bay Area. She is the author of the poetry collections like a solid to a shadow (Nightboat Books, 2022) and microchips for millions (PAWA, Inc., 2016), along with two other chapbooks. She is a 2023-2026 Lucas Arts Resident in Literary Arts at the Montalvo Arts Center. She was a Visiting Scholar at the Newberry Library in Chicago, IL,  an AWP Writer-to-Writer Mentee in fiction, the 2020-2021 Santa Clara County Poet Laureate, and a Poet Laureate Fellow with the Academy of American Poets. She is an Associate Professor of English at Skyline College where she received the Meyer Excellence in Teaching Award in 2023. She co-founded Santa Clara County’s Youth Poet Laureate Program as a chapter with Urban Word NYC, and she co-founded Sunday Jump Open Mic in Los Angeles’s Historic Filipinotown.  She is working on a novel.

2021-2022 Judges

Judges for the program are community members who are leaders in the local poetry and writing community, and are invested in education, activism, community organizing and youth development.

Judges also ensure that we select students that represent the program's values of civic engagement, literary excellence, and social impact/social justice. 

See the Judges' Rubric below

(shout out to the National Youth Laureate & Oakland Youth Poet Laureate Programs for their guidance)


Mary Celestin


I am passionate about lean project management in systems, industrial and civil engineering. I believe that by decentralizing the engineer and focusing on the community through human centered design, we can build a future of equitable societies and smarter cities with innovative projects/products. With a knack for fantasy writing, and passion for the humanities, I bring a unique voice to engineering project and product design.

As the founder of San Jose Strong, a grassroots organization, I work to build a digital resource database and community organizing hub for San José residents. As an advocate for access to education, I work to increase opportunities for underrepresented groups in STEM by teaching and developing STEM curriculum for K-12.


Lindsey Leong


Lindsey Leong aka HELLA famous is a third generation Chinese American San Jose born and raised spoken word artist, host, curator and community organizer. Her first streaming spoken word project I Am A Metaphor is available now. To learn more about Lindsey’s work you can visit


Tonya McQuade


Tonya McQuade is an English teacher at Los Gatos High School in Los Gatos, CA, and lives with her husband in San Jose, CA. She has been writing poetry since fourth grade and is currently a member of Poetry Center San Jose. She has been published in’s America at the Millennium: The Best Poems and Poets of the 20th Century, Pushpen Press’s Three: An Anthology of Flash Non-Fiction, and California Teacher Association’s digital California Educator.


Basil Saleh


Basil Saleh is a native San Josean, and Cambrian resident. As a student, the effects of wealth inequality and tragedies like the Ghost Ship Fire on the Bay Area Arts Community, drove Basil to apply his skills to public service and policy in order to represent the diverse communities that call our region home. Basil has a BA in Media Studies from the University of San Francisco.
“In the wake of COVID-19, our district will need a board member with experience building relationships and community, who is committed to protecting our most vulnerable students from austerity. My current role as a Community Relations Aide for our County Supervisor has me work across an array of agencies and stakeholder groups, empowering communities to become better served by their institutions. This experience uniquely prepares me to step into a board role in a way that is impactful, and bring a perspective that is currently missing; because, I actually understand and work in the same communities our students live in.”


Gary Singh


Gary is an award-winning travel journalist with a music degree who publishes poetry, paints and exhibits photographs. As a scribe, his byline has appeared over 1400 times including travel essays, art and music criticism, profiles, business journalism, lifestyle articles, poetry and short fiction. Since April of 2005, he's written the Silicon Alleys column for Metro Silicon Valley, San Jose's alt-weekly newspaper, offering his own bent perspective on the local human condition. He is the author of The San Jose Earthquakes: A Seismic Soccer Legacy, (The History Press, 2015) and was recently a Steinbeck Fellow in Creative Writing at SJSU, his alma mater.

2020-2021 Judges

Judges for the program are community members who are leaders in the local poetry and writing community, and are invested in education, activism, community organizing and youth development.

Judges also ensure that we select students that represent the program's values of civic engagement, literary excellence, and social impact/social justice. 

See the Judges' Rubric below

(shout out to the National Youth Laureate & Oakland Youth Poet Laureate Programs for their guidance)

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Lindsey Couto-Mohamed


Lindsey Couto-Mohamed is a dedicated high school English teacher from the South Bay. She serves as an advisor and coordinator for various community-oriented programs including the freshman transition program Link Crew, Acts of Random Kindness Club, and Every 15 Minutes. Lindsey mentors teacher candidates from SJSU and SCU, intentionally encouraging diverse representation within the profession. Lindsey’s passionate about promoting social and restorative justice and cultural awareness by creating, sourcing, and implementing multicultural literature curriculum.
Her commitment to student and community support has earned Lindsey a Stanford University Teacher Tribute as well as multiple Teacher of the Year awards at Santa Clara High School, where she is an alumna. 
When she is not teaching, mentoring, or participating in community events, Lindsey is a devoted mother, raising a six-year-old young scholar, activist, and parkour enthusiast; a supportive wife to a fellow-educator; and a daughter, niece, cousin, auntie, sister-in-law, and friend to her inspiring extended circle.

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Poliana Irizarry


I’m on the planning committee for the 2017 Bay Area Queer Zine Fest, part of the South Bay chapter of the Degenderettes, and I am ½ of the South Bay DIY Zine Collective with Sherrise Gutierrez. In addition to organizing zine-making workshops with #sbDIYzc, we inherited the portable zine library from Think and Die Thinking collective. The zines now have a permanent home at the San Jose LGBTQ Youth Space, and the sbDIYzc portable library makes appearances at art fests, punk shows, coffeeshops, college student groups, and even a school library materials fair. Check us out at &
I’ve been making zines for over a decade under the moniker bibliophiliac zines. You can buy my work at – but I am much more interested in trading my zines for yours.

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Sajid A. Khan


Sajid Khan is a son of Santa Clara County, having lived here for most of his life, first in Milpitas, then in San Jose.
He attended San Jose High and then returned to San Jose after college in Berkeley and law school in San Francisco. Sajid raises his two sons here and has worked for the last 12 years as a Santa Clara County Deputy Public Defender and Alternate Public Defender and currently handles homicide cases. In 2016, his colleagues presented him "The Heart of the Office Award" for his service to the community and the people he represents.


Quynh-Mai Nguyen


Quynh-Mai Nguyen (she/her) is a social artist, community organizer, poet, and musician from San José, CA. She is deeply passionate and involved in creating access and awareness through event programming, visual storytelling, media, and social art for the stories of womxn, people of color, and communities whose narratives go unnoticed.

In 2018, she was named "KQED Arts Bay Brilliant" for her cultural work in the Bay Area. In 2020, she was selected to represent San José as one of twenty 8 80 Cities’ Emerging City Champions to implement projects that show great promise for strengthening her hometown.

She is an alumni of San José State University as well as the Multicultural Arts Leadership Institute (MALI). She is currently the creative director for Art Builds Community, a small womxn-led public art and planning firm.

Learn more about Quynh-Mai at and follow her on Instagram and Twitter @quynhlatifah

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Matt Ogawa


Matt Ogawa is from the Bay Area. In his full time job he leads an HR Partner team, focused on how to best support, grow and scale teams, at Facebook, Inc.
Matt is also involved in many facets of the San Jose Japantown community serving as a youth advisor for the local youth association and is a performer with the San Jose Taiko group. Matt also serves on the board of directors for the ‘Silicon Valley Creates’ organization and is one of the core members of the statewide New Generation Nikkei Culture Fund. Additionally, Matt spends time leading cross-company efforts with Asian Pacific Islander leaders, non profit organizations, and small businesses on how to support our local community and to help move focus on cultural advancement, support, and amplification.


Yosimar Reyes


Yosimar Reyes is a nationally-acclaimed Poet and Public Speaker. Born in Guerrero, Mexico, and raised in Eastside San Jose, Reyes explores the themes of migration and sexuality in his work. The Advocate named Reyes one of "13 LGBT Latinos Changing the World" and Remezcla included Reyes on their list of "10 Up And Coming Latinx Poets You Need To Know."
His first collection of poetry, For Colored Boys Who Speak Softly… was self-published after a collaboration with the legendary Carlos Santana. His work has also been published in various online journals and books including Mariposas: An Anthology of Queer Modern Latino Poetry (Floricanto Press), Queer in Aztlán: Chicano Male Recollections of Consciousness and Coming Out (Cognella Press), and the forthcoming Joto: An Anthology of Queer Xicano & Chicano Poetry (Kórima Press). Reyes was featured in the Documentary, "2nd Verse: The Rebirth of Poetry."
He is a LAMBDA Literary Fellow as well as the recipient of the Undocupoets Fellowship. Reyes previously served as Artist-in-Residence at the media and culture organization, Define American.
Reyes has toured and presented at university campuses across the United States. He is currently working on his one-man show, "Prieto," to premiere in the near future. Reyes holds a B.A in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University.

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Landon Smith


Landon Smith was born in LA, but grew up in San Jose, CA. He earned his BA in English from the University of Michigan - Ann Arbor. He later attended Mills College in Oakland, CA to attain his MA in English Literature and Languages with an emphasis on Black Texts and Social Justice. He has worked with high school students across the Bay Area, teaching writing and social justice. He also worked as the Liberal and Creative Arts Coordinator in the Metro College Success Program at San Francisco State University - a program for first generation, low-income, (primarily) students of color. 

He  is currently a Full-Time Tenure Track professor in the English Department at Chabot College in Hayward, where he serves on the Student Equity Committee, serves as a faculty advisor on the Stay Woke Collective (a student-led social justice organization), and works with RISE - a transitional program that works with previously incarcerated students.

When he was 12, his parents were getting divorced, and his older sister, Alia, wanted him to have an outlet, so she got him his first journal - that is how his lifelong journey with writing emotions was born. Landon has performed poetry in New York, Detroit, Berkeley, Bowery Poetry’s “No Desk Poetry Concert”, and has been the featured poet for SF MoAD’s Open Mic. His poetry has been published in publications such as Cathexis Northwest Press and Silver Pinion Magazine.  He credits much of his growth as a poet to his community at the Patrice Lumumba Writer’s Group, out of the East Side Arts Alliance in Oakland.

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