Cleo Wade Is the Insta-Famous Artist Hollywood and Fashion Can't Get Enough Of
Rowan Blanchard, Gloria Steinem and Reese Witherspoon are among her fans.
On International Women's Day, Cleo Wade is seeing many of the fruits of her labor come to light.
The artist, activist and poet, who has been affectionately referred to as "the millennial Oprah," has been linked to liberal hunk Sen. Corey Booker and counts Katy Perry among her inner circle, has teamed up with Gucci, which will publish her works across its social media platforms as well as in global advertisements for a campaign to raise awareness for its female-driven Chime for Change foundation, which supports various women's causes around the world.
It's perfect timing, since she also debuts her first book this week, Heart Talk: Poetic Wisdom for a Better Life (Atria Books Hardcover, $17.99). More than three years in the making, the book features more than 120 traditional poems and handwritten affirmations — the likes of which have earned Wade cult status on Instagram (Rowan Blanchard and Gloria Steinem are amongst her almost 340,000 followers) — the book also includes what Wade calls “kitchen-table conversation,” delivered in the form of empowering reflections and advice. “There have been so many books I’ve read where I’ve almost wished the author could have sat down with me at my own kitchen table and broken it down a little further,” she explains.
“I really don’t think you can be a great writer without being a great listener, so I feel like everything I write is a reflection of the times I spend compassionately listening to others,” says Wade, who has also been known to respond to fans who share messages of heartbreak with her on Instagram. “I am the kind of person who, when something happens, all of my girlfriends are at my house in my living room talking to me about it…. Everything that’s in this book — because I did want it to be a tool — are things that I know have worked for me, and I know have helped me and my friends.”
And while Wade’s uplifting words of kindness are often shared in politically driven spheres (following the Women’s March, Wade crafted a poem for the New York Times about being an activist in local communities), the author designed the book to be more timeless in nature, with each page designed like its own episode, she says. “I think that its important that this type of information is put back into our culture at moments when we can really see it, hear it and work with it,” notes Wade, listing authors such as Alice Walker and James Baldwin as her own sources of inspiration.
The written word has always been central to Wade’s work, long before her wisdom went viral, landing her a TED talk in 2016 “My biggest passion is public art,” says Wade. Take, for example, her 50-foot love poem titled “She” is on permanent display on the side of a warehouse in her native New Orleans. “I grew up so poor in Louisiana that I didn’t even know how to feel comfortable walking into a museum. Every human benefits from the inspiration art has to offer,” says the artist.
In recent months, she has collaborated with a number of brands on feminist-friendly products. Wade worked with La Ligne on a limited-edition shirt dubbed The AccountabiliTEE, emblazoned with the words “I will tell on you.” One hundred percent of the proceeds will go towards the Time’s Up movement. “The day and age of the silencing of women and keeping secrets for men is over,” says Wade, who has also collaborated with the likes of Zero + Maria Cornejo in the past.
She also created a limited-edition bag with FEED, putting her artistic spin on a tote splashed with the phrase “Woman on a Mission.” “Every time I make anything, even if its ten words on a napkin, I write it from a place of hoping it can be of service to others,” she says.
So how does it feel when her words are shared by the likes of Reese Witherspoon and Jessica Alba on social media? “To know that it speaks to them as well is just such an incredible feeling because I admire their journeys so much and the work they do in the world,” she says, recalling the barrage of texts she received from friends when Mehgan Markle reposted one of her poems on Instagram. “You could never have told ten-year-old-me that would happen.”