Inspiration, Mamahood, Mamazine Moment, The Journey

Mother & Beloved Poet, Cleo Wade on Writing ‘What the Road Said’

Daphne Thompson | May 2, 2021

Cleo Wade is a household name and social media icon for her inspirational poetry and activism. This time, Wade has used her gift to motivate and support families and children around the world. Wade’s latest book, What the Road Saidguides its readers to follow their own paths, stay curious on the journey, and fear not when wrong turns are made. It’s the perfect teaching companion for parents striving to raise fearless children, with words straight from the heart of a mother.

We connected with Wade in celebration of the launch of What the Road Said, to learn more about her deeply personal experience writing it, and what she hopes it will instill in all those who read it.

What inspired you to write What the Road Said, and to share it with the world at this current moment in time?

CLEO: This book was really inspired by my childhood experiences. It is all of the words I really needed to hear as a child. About halfway through finishing the book, I became pregnant. So what started out as words I needed to hear as a child turned into words I wanted to remember as a mother, and words I wanted my own child to grow up with.

You are a mama to your beautiful daughter Memphis. As she grows, what are you planning to teach her? How do you plan to support her on the roads she’ll travel throughout her life?

One of my favorite things I ever heard Gloria Steinem say is that the way we teach our daughters that their voice matters is by being the first person to listen to them. SO much of our pain and suffering comes from not being seen and heard as our authentic selves. I hope I can hold the space for Memphis to be and love herself in every phase of her journey. I think that is the best any of us can do.

What the Road Said is not your first book, but it is your first picture book. How did the incorporation of illustration impact your book-writing experience this time around?

These illustrations are by Lucie De Moyencourt- she is an illustrator based in South Africa. I was such a fan of Lucie’s work which I first discovered by seeing the beautiful paintings she does on seashells in Cape Town. I just knew she was perfect when I saw her sketches so we had a few general meetings around tone and how I wanted the reader to feel in each spread and she really did her thing. I gave almost no notes.

You’ve said that while writing What the Road Said, you had to confront some of the traumas from your childhood. Can you speak to how writing this book helped you to heal?

We have the ability to console ourselves not just in the present moment but in all phases of my life. There were many times I felt I was sitting down with my childhood self and letting her know that she was okay. Those conversations were incredibly healing.

What the Road Said is a beautiful book for children to engage with, but there is so much for the adult to learn from it, too. What do you hope families take away from “What the Road Said” after reading it together?

When I began researching children’s books, I was reminded of what an intergenerational experience it was. When kids are young, they experience books via adults reading them to them. That really changed the way I wrote the book because I wanted it to feel like gentle guidance for kids and gentle reminders for adults at the same time.

What are you reading right now? What are some of the books and stories you are reading to your daughter?

Right now I am reading a lot of Lucille Clifton and Memphis loves the book Undefeated.

What are some of the ways in which you practice self-care?

My greatest self-care practice is knowing that I am deserving of it.


Buy What the Road Said here, and follow Cleo Wade’s work on Instagram!

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