Somerville Local First


Somerville Notables

Apr 26 12:18 pm

Photo by Georgy Cohen

by Kristen Schaer

The characters and local color that make a city more than just a place to live is one thing that makes Somerville great, and not just another dot on the map. Whether a birthplace, a nurturing neighborhood to come of age in, a place to generate ideas or a refuge, Somerville has played fertile breeding ground to a number of authors, entrepreneurs, athletes, scientists, intellectuals and artists throughout the years. Not just an outpost of Boston, Somerville is a continuing generator and incubator of invaluable resources: ideas and creativity.

Science fiction author Isaac Asimov lived in Somerville during the 1950s during his time teaching at Boston University’s medical school. Noted author of the stories, “I, Robot” and the “Foundation” series, Asimov’s momentous intellect was matched only by his lack of physical dexterity. He never learned how to swim or ride a bike, but managed to learn how to drive while living in Somerville. In his book, Asimov Laughs Again, he likened driving in Boston to “anarchy on wheels.”

Bobby “Boris” Pickett, though not easily distinguishable by name alone, is the co-writer and singer of “Monster Mash.” Written at the time to be a spoof on the “Mashed Potato” and “Twist” dance crazes, Pickett utilized his passion for horror movies to do impressions of stars Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff for the song. Cult film director John Waters, in his book, Role Models, claims he dances to the song once a day to stay happy.

Archibald Query may sound like a British sea captain with such an illustrious name, but his profession is more fluff. Marshmallow Fluff. Created in 1917 by Query, the crème was sold door-to-door prior to World War I, but languished during the war as a sugar shortage caused the manufacture to be expensive. Swampscott company Durkee-Mower bought the rights to the crème in the 1920s and patented the term “Fluffernutter” to describe the peanut butter/Marshmallow Fluff sandwich. Annually, Somerville’s Union Square hosts the “What the Fluff” festival, featuring art and cooking contests as well as performances and games.

Writers David Foster Wallace and Jonathan Franzen did brief stints in the ‘ville, with parts of Franzen’s Strong Motion featuring references to Somerville.

Author Pagan Kennedy currently resides in Somerville and is credited with having a strong hand in the 1990’s ‘zine movement. Autobiographical Pagan’s Head is a ‘zine about her life. Her writings can be seen in the New York Times and Boston magazine as well as online publication, Salon.

The Emperor’s Children author, Claire Messud, lives in Somerville with her husband, James Wood, a literary critic. Wood’s essays have appeared in the New Yorker, the New York Times, and the New York Review of Books. Wood also co-taught a class at Boston University with author Saul Bellow.

Athletes have found tremendous encouragement in the Somerville area, as well. Current Detroit Lions offensive-line starter, Gosder Cherilus played for the Somerville High School team for Coach Tony Gulla and then offensive-line coach, Joseph Curtatone. Curatone currently serves as mayor of Somerville. Curtatone said of Cherilus in a July 12, 2011 article of the Somerville News, “Gos is one of the most professional, kind, and giving individuals I have had the pleasure of working with, and coaching, in my career.  His eagerness to give back to the community where he had his start as a football player and his generosity to the children here and in his home country of Haiti prove that he’s an incredibly well-rounded and humble man.”

xkcd webcomic founder Randall Munroe is rooted in Somerville, as well. The webcomic features themes including technology, mathematics, science, language, pop culture and romance. Munroe is a proponent for geocache, a method utilizing a GPS system to meet up with other random members at a specific location using geohashing, a logarithm for finding the location. A North Cambridge neighborhood was famously located by xkcd fans in 2007 when it was mentioned in Munroe’s webcomic #240.

Walking around Somerville, visiting its many stores, bars, restaurants, arts venues and concert venues, the excitement and support centering around creativity is palpable. Perhaps people move here to be a part of that sense of forward thinking, or maybe the opposite is true, and the neighborhood itself provides the impetus for creativity. Whatever the case may be, it is happening here.

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