As a young girl, Nicole Edmonds spent idyllic summers on the Vineyard, living near Nashawena Park, where she could walk to the Inkwell Beach every day to swim and play with her friends. Now 36 years old, Edmonds, who is African American and also has Wampanoag heritage, has captured the magic of her childhood in a new children’s book, “The Little Inkwell Girl,” a charming picture book about a little girl and her adventures in Oak Bluffs.
“I wanted it to be a feel-good story,” said Edmonds in a recent interview. “With all of the protests going on recently, I thought I’d like to put something positive out there.”
In the simple story, the nameless little Inkwell girl talks about her family, her friends, her home, the town of Oak Bluffs, and of course, her favorite place — Inkwell Beach.
The beach has historical value for its strong links to African American heritage on Martha’s Vineyard. “I grew up spending summers in our home on Nashawena,” said Edmonds. “A bench dedicated to my great-grandmother, Edna Center Lofton, faces the beach. I thought, ‘Maybe this is a sign to do something about the Inkwell and our heritage.’ The Island is changing so much, I don’t want all that history to get washed away. ”
Throughout the story, the Little Inkwell Girl repeats a mantra, “My skin. My skin. I love the skin I’m in. I’m brown. I’m gold. I’m black. I’m BOLD. I’ll love [variously — the sun, the beach, my friends, my family] until I’m old!”
Edmonds wanted to tell a universal story about loving oneself, which is why she gave her character no name. “I want everyone to be able to relate — all cultures and backgrounds and races — anyone who wants to be the Little Inkwell Girl.”
The illustrations are by Teguh Sulistio, an illustrator and graphic designer from Indonesia. Edmonds found the artist while researching illustrators online. Although he has never visited the Island, Sulistio worked from multiple photos and descriptions of the settings for the book. Edmonds even created a storyboard and Excel sheet for the project, and the artist has really captured the look and feel of the Island, including images of Ocean Park, gingerbread cottages, and a marvelous rendering of the Little Inkwell Girl’s family home, which looks quite like the Norton House in vibrant pink.
Prior to moving full-time to the Vineyard last year, Edmonds worked as a civil engineer in Boston. When her job working on the Massachusetts Highway Exit Project became remote due to the pandemic, she moved in with her grandparents in Oak Bluffs, and continued working full-time while also seeking creative outlets on the Island. Last summer Edmonds took on a job at the Featherstone Center for the Arts. She also tried her hand at acting, starring in a short play presented by Pathways at the Tashmoo Waterworks in August, and appearing as an extra in the movie “Heartworm,” which was shot on the Island this past fall.
Edmonds is also a classically trained flutist, who has been playing since she was in the fourth grade. She recalls waking up to her grandmother playing Chopin on the family’s baby grand. Along with a love for music, Edmonds shares her grandmother’s interest in politics. Jane Center Edmonds served as the head of the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination during the Dukakis and Romney administrations. Although she is a lifelong Democrat, Center Edmonds gave a speech at the RNC during Romney’s presidential run.
Edmonds herself served as diversity co-chair for her former employer HNTB, tasked with trying to recruit minority engineers into the field, and she also held the position of president for the National Association of Black Engineers for the Boston Professional Chapter. Although she gave up her position with HNTB once the job required more commuting back and forth between the Vineyard and Boston, she is still using her engineering skills in her position on the Island’s Bike and Pedestrian Advisory Committee. For now, she says, “I really want to explore being in the art world.”
Chances are Edmonds will continue to try to make a difference with her various artistic pursuits.
“Growing up in this environment of civil rights activism, I’ve always had pride in our heritage and culture,” she said.
For her next book, the author plans to write about a Wampanoag boy who wants to be an engineer. “There are so many stories you can tell,” she said. “It’s my passion.”
“The Little Inkwell Girl” by Nicole Edmonds is available at Featherstone Center for the Arts and online.
Bravo to Nicole Edmonds! I look forward to buying your book and reading it to my granddaughter. Congratulations !
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