Poet-artist and activist Cleo Wade amassed her Instagram following by posting inspirational mantras. In 2018, she extended that vision with self-help tome “Heart Talk: Poetic Wisdom for a Better Life,” and is now following up with a new children’s book, “What the Road Said,” out March 23. Variety caught up with the New Orleans native from her home in New York City.
What inspired you to write a children’s book?
A few years ago, I was asked to give a talk at an eighth grade graduation in New York at the Fannie Lou Hamer School in the Bronx. I wanted to do it, but I was like, “What would I say?” I really had to think back on my own childhood self and think, “What would I want to tell her?” I had these words I’d written on a post-it note and put on my inspiration board: “I said to the road, ‘Where do you lead?’ The road said, ‘Be a leader and find out.’”
I [thought] I could turn this into a poem and and I wanted it to be kind of a love letter to my childhood self when I felt my most alone or my most vulnerable or my most confused, and I wanted to create the book that gave you answers in a way, but also just comfort during life’s uncomfortable moments.
Once I actually sold the book, about midway through the process of finishing it, I actually became pregnant. And so what started out as this book that was kind of a love letter to my childhood self, ended up being a love letter to my daughter.
That wisdom speaks to the uncertainty of the past year.
If there’s anything we’ve noticed during COVID, it’s that if you’re trying to jump to the ending or stay stuck at the beginning or in the past of pre-COVID, then it’s just so hard to live through it. But if you can just take it one day at a time and be as present as you can and just give yourself as much grace and be as gentle on yourself as you can through the journey, that is how we survive this thing.
Why was it a risk to write a book that bet on kids’ inner wisdom, as you’ve mentioned before?
I think that children want to give love and receive love and give peace and connect with others who are on a journey, too. And so, I think a lot of the times we act as if those are things we learn later in life how to do and I actually think that kids really have a natural way of navigating and knowing of those things, and I wanted to speak to that and ask that children trust those things in themselves. … It’s betting on kids and their parents being like, “Yeah, let’s trust in that.” It’s always a risk to ask anyone to trust themselves or an idea or process.
Do you have plans to adapt the story for film or TV?
I think with any creative work that someone makes, it’s all about finding the right partnerships that honor the reason why you made it in the first place. … If there was ever a space that that could be done with in film and television, I would definitely be open to it and excited.
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