Meet the 2017 Judges, Emcee, and Musician

Meet our 2017 Judges

Claire D. Kolheim  is an 6-time award-winning actress, singer, and performer. She has starred in Ragtime (as Sarah), The Color Purple (Celie), and Avenue Q (Gary Coleman). She is more than happy to be serving -for the first time- as a judge at the Poetry Out Loud competition.  For more information about Claire visit her at or follow her all over the social world @Kolhobama

Ethan Castelo

Ethan Castelo teaches Literature and Composition at Middle Tennessee State University. His fiction has appeared in Prairie Fire and The Journal and has also been honored by Glimmer TrainRecently, his novel Drinking from the Devil’s Glass made the rounds to major publishers (though, he is sad to report, it did not find a home).

Thandiwe Shiphrah is a multidisciplinary artist and a practitioner of arts-based learning and community building. She is passionate about poetry and dedicated to raising awareness of its personal and social relevance. Much of her work involves using poetry for talent and leadership development, community engagement, and cross-cultural communication. Thandiwe is founder of, a consultancy and online platform for poetry-inspired creativity. In 2011, she was recognized by the Jubilation Foundation for her work teaching poetry to youth.


Christian J. Collier is a 2015 Loft Spoken Word Immersion Fellow. He is an accomplished artist and educator who has shared the stage with legendary poet and activist Ishmael Reed, Grammy-nominated artist Minton Sparks, and several members of HBO’s Def Poetry cast. Collier has been featured on the IndieFeed Performance Poetry Channel.

Meet our 2017 Emcee

Victoria Shaw is an award-winning songwriter who has scored four country #1 hits and won Song of the Year honors from the Academy of Country Music. She penned “I Love the Way You Love Me” (John Michael Montgomery), “The River” (Garth Brooks), “Too Busy Being in Love” (Doug Stone), and songs recorded by Eric Church, Faith Hill, and Reba, among others. Shaw’s music has had success beyond the country genre. She wrote the adult contemporary hit “Never Alone” (Jim Brickman with Lady Antebellum) and a Latin chart-topper “Nobody Wants to Be Lonely” (Ricky Martin and Christina Aguilera).

Meet Ivy Phillips

Chapmansboro, Tennessee, native Ivy Phillips is a multi-instrumentalist and fiddle champion. At fourteen, she has won several state contest titles, plays in numerous bands, and is a member of the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Youth Council. She is the current Grand Master Fiddler Championship youth champion and has performed on the Grand Ole Opry, among other prestigious stages across the country. For the Poetry Out Loud performance, Phillips will be joined by her brother, Grayson Phillips, on bass; Jake Patty on guitar; and Abbey Wade on mandolin.


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