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Patrons wait for the T in Cambridge's Central Square. (b a r t/Flickr)

Patrons wait for the T in Cambridge's Central Square. (b a r t/Flickr)

When author Askold Melnyczuk  moved to Cambridge 35 years ago there were more bookstores than bars.

Things have changed quite a bit over the years. But Melnyczuk, now a resident of Medford, still loves writing about Cambridge, a place he notes, “that now has more banks than bars.”

ZIP code 02139 is the setting of his fourth novel, “Smedley’s Secret Guide to World Literature” which is currently in progress. He shared the first chapter with WBUR.

“Smedley’s Secret Guide to World Literature” is narrated by Jonathan Levy Wainscotting IV, a 15-year-old son of privilege who is forced to confront a family crisis and navigate his rapidly changing adolescent life. The son of a Harvard poetry professor and a motivated activist mother, Wainscotting’s orientation to the world is quite different from that of his diverse set of friends at the local public high school (modeled after Cambridge Rindge and Latin).

For Melnyczuk,  founding editor of the literary magazine AGNI and an associate professor of English at UMass Boston, the Cambridge setting adds necessary tension and texture to this story.

“What happens to a person depends on what they bump into in the streets and how they begin to respond to it,” Melnyczuk said. “In Cambridge, you have the mosh pit on one end and the public library on the other and [these] students have equal and easy access to both. I think that the models of possibility a town like Cambridge offers are singular.”

“Smedley’s Secret Guide to World Literature” and 02139 is the second installment of Radio Boston’s literary series ZIP-Code Stories. It’s a collaboration between WBUR’s Radio Boston and The Drum, Boston’s audio literary magazine.

Learn more about how to submit your stories at our Zip-Code Stories FAQ page.

Check out the ZIP-Code Stories page

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=4810560 Steve Laniel

    Harvard is in 02138.

    • Anonymous

      D’oh!

      My mistake…especially galling when you consider that I live in 02139…

      Thanks for pointing it out!

  • Disappointed, alas

    I know it’s not strictly *necessary* to know how 15-year-olds sound before writing novels narrated by 15-year-olds, but can we all agree, at least, that it’s not actually a bad idea?

  • Realist

    Amazing and you can’t generalize 15year olds. 

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