Why You Should Be Following This Instagram Poet

Scroll through your most-used social apps, and we bet you encounter an inspirational quote within minutes. Today, we're bombarded with pseudo-spiritual clichés and motivational platitudes in caption, status-update, and shareable-graphic form. But rising above all the Likes-bait is Cleo Wade, a rare authentic voice in our daily feeds. The New York-based poet's typewritten, painted, and hand-scrawled notes — poems, affirmations, and reality checks preaching self-love, woman power, and wokeness — have garnered her some 115,000 Instagram followers hungry for real-deal inspiration. With the app as her primary platform, Wade represents a new kind of artist — one who can instantly publish her work to the masses, rather than share it with the typical gallery-going crowd alone. It’s fair to reason, though, that the NOLA native's connections within certain creative circles (including some famous friends) have helped extend her reach. The audience eating up her simplified, feel-good life advice and feminist POV has grown such that her schedule is packed with speaking engagements, photo shoots, and writing her own books. Following the shoot for this story, we found out firsthand why she's in demand as a voice of the moment, with the meaning behind the Amulette de Cartier pieces she’d just posed in — featuring pink opal, symbolizing a wish for happiness; carnelian, for vitality; and onyx, for courage — as our jumping-off point. As we dug into her experience as an artist in the social-media age and her driving forces as a creative and a human, she laid out a holistic vision for buoying young women that’s rooted in self-care, social awareness, and personal expression. Read on for Wade's take on these and more topics on our collective conscience right now. There’s plenty to Like.
What's unique about being a so-called "Instagram artist"?
“When you take how you want to give to the world and make art objects with it, you tend to exist in a very niche, intellectual [sect] of people valuing what the work is. The art market is a business. The amazing thing about having work online, in a place that’s interactive, is that I don’t feel like I write for a niche of people. I write for everyone who’s feeling alone in certain feelings. So if the presence I have can make anyone feel less alone, those are the best days.”

Obviously, a lot of what we see online is contrived. Do you find it takes courage to be as honest as you are on social media?
“I always have moments of, Do I put this on the internet? What I realized is that fear and feeling vulnerable hold us back so much. So every time I press 'post' I think, This will give someone else permission to do the same. Sometimes all we need is to see one person who did it and that is a healing energy.”
Until now, most fans of your work have interacted with it through Instagram. Why did you decide to release prints for the first time this summer?
“Affirmations have helped me so much in my life. But even though we’re this quote-obsessed culture, we don’t actually practice them. So if having a print of my work encourages people to develop their own mantras and use them in their own life, I’m so excited about that. I want to make as many as I can [while being environmentally responsible] and get them out in a way that will inspire women to be entrepreneurs in their passions. A portion of the proceeds will also benefit different women’s organizations in the U.S.”

You call your work an act of public service, but it's also tied into the speaking gigs, partnerships, and consulting that contribute to your livelihood. How do you preserve your artistic integrity while embracing new opportunities?
“I lend myself to lots of different areas in and outside of writing, but I never compromise on my messaging — the things I write to young girls that they hang in their bedrooms and make part of their lives. I'm like, I know I’m in your psyche; I know it’s something you maybe count on in your day; and I don’t take that responsibility lightly. So there’s no collaboration or photo shoot or way I’ll manipulate my writing that betrays that relationship or that trust.”
You're a passionate supporter and cheerleader of women in your writing, speaking, and personal life. Why is that such an important cause for you?
“Every moment of being a woman is a series of small victories. Systematically the deck is stacked against us. If it wasn’t, we would have equal pay to men and enjoy the benefits of gender equality across the board. I write for all people, but you have to check the temperature around you and feel where there’s a need. As women, we’ve been raised by society to compete with rather than honor and root for each other, and all of that can be flipped.”
How have these societal biases affected you on an individual level?
“I’m a woman and a woman of color. So you have to see the subtle and not-so-subtle examples of how people have this built-in positioning on those two things — whether it’s your parents instilling fear in you or people acting like you’re reaching an expiration date as you get older. Like, on what planet are women starting to expire after 30? You’re actually getting better and better; you’re so in your power [after 30]. But you’re supposed to act as if you’re losing value, even in work.”
The fact that mental and emotional health are as critical as physical health is being recognized now more than ever. How do you live this messaging, which is reflected in your writing?
“I try to be an example of taking care of yourself. A lot of the time I’m writing because I’m like, Cleo, you’re feeling this way — what is your advice to yourself here? I work so hard to have a self-care routine that works for me because I don’t wake up every morning and feel amazing. But I know it’s all about the process and enjoying your journey and all you’ve put in to make yourself whole. So I have a lot of things I do if I’m in a funk. I meditate, I have mantras, I have a support system. Being able to express myself is a huge part of my self-care routine that I treasure, and sharing all of that is my greatest mission.”
A lot of people consider poetry outdated or irrelevant to their lives. Do you think practicing some kind of personal writing can be beneficial for everyone?
“It’s amazing the clarity you get when you take everything you’re feeling inside and put it in front of you. A lot of the time when we’re frustrated in our lives or feeling depressed or trapped or like, What am I doing with my life?, it’s from lack of clarity, not from lack of strength. So we have to address what the problem is. When we’re so convoluted from having multiple conversations within, if you can put it in front of you, look at it, speak to it, and really digest it, you will benefit in a way that will change your entire life.”
Part of the power of your posts is that they speak to the reader in a moment in real time. Do you have a mantra you call on in the moment to uplift yourself?
“I’m constantly doing things outside my comfort zone, like I'm on a photo shoot or giving a talk to teens. When you’re just rolling with your passions and trying to offer as much as you can, you find yourself being like, What am I doing here? So I always have this mantra in my head: As long as you’re yourself, you can’t eff it up.”
Speaking of your passions, what does the future look like for you?
“I’m working on finishing my book of 365 days of mantras and affirmations this year, and I'm finishing my art series in my studio in Brooklyn. I really want to focus my time and energy on being a part of the community of young women, teens, and girls in this world. They are the future, and I know they’re going to cast the safety net that’s wide enough to keep all of the people in need cared for. So I’m excited about the speaking engagements I have coming up and spending more time with young people. They’re the most important investment we can make.”
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