For a guy who calls himself a master of nothing, Nathaniel Popkin does a pretty good job for himself as a novelist, literary editor, critic, journalist, and urban historian. Nathaniel joins the show to talk about his new novel, Everything Is Borrowed (New Door Books), as well as the new literary anthology he co-edited, Who Will Speak for America? (Temple University Press). We get into the fertile subject and setting of Philadelphia, the goal of building a literary hub for his adopted city, the process of writing a novel about anarchists and architects (which I sorta characterize as the anti-Fountainhead), the necessity of self-delusion for artists, his background in urban planning and how it informs his writing, the challenges and rewards of seeking diversity in art, the importance of the Writers Resist movement, how becoming a writer was his way of being Jewish in the world, and why he eschewed MFA vs NYC in favor of PHL! Give it a listen! And go buy Everything Is Borrowed, Who Will Speak for America?, and Philadelphia: Finding the Hidden City!
“The question of who will speak for America is vital at this moment.”
“Philadelphia is an injured city. It wants to be something but never quite can achieve it.”
Nathaniel Popkin is the author of five books, including the new novel Everything Is Borrowed (New Door Books), called “utterly absorbing” by the writer Robin Black, and the co-editor of Who Will Speak for America?, a literary anthology in response to the American political crisis, forthcoming in June 2018 (Temple University Press). He is the fiction review editor of Cleaver Magazine, as well as a prolific book critic—and National Book Critics Circle member—focusing on literary fiction and works in translation. His work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Public Books, The Rumpus, Tablet Magazine, LitHub, The Millions, and the Kenyon Review, among other publications.
As a keen observer of cities and lived places, Popkin has often turned his eye to the layers of history and life in his own city. He’s the founding co-editor of the Hidden City Daily, a web magazine that covers architecture, design, planning, and preservation in Philadelphia, and the co-author of the 2017 work of non-fiction, Philadelphia: Finding the Hidden City (Temple University Press). He’s also the senior writer and story editor of the multi-part documentary film series “Philadelphia: The Great Experiment,” for which his work has been recognized with several Emmy awards. He was the guest architecture critic of the Philadelphia Inquirer from 2011-12.
Popkin’s first novel, Lion and Leopard (The Head and The Hand Press), is a mediation on originality and influence in art. It reimagines the life and tragic death of the first great American genre painter, John Lewis Krimmel. Lion and Leopard was a finalist for the Foreword Reviews Indie Book of the Year Award, and novelist Ken Kalfus described it as “historical literary fiction at its most engaging.”
Lion and Leopard followed two books of literary non-fiction, the 2002 Song of the City (Four Walls Eight Windows/Basic Books) and the 2008 essay collection, The Possible City (Camino Books).
Popkin has been a Pennsylvania Council on the Arts fellow and a writer-in-residence at Philadelphia University and the Athenaeum of Philadelphia.
“My rabbinic training taught me: care about who you are and who your people are, and use the best of that tradition to make the world a better place. Szyk was an artist who articulated all those values.”
Arthur Szyk was once one of the most popular artists in America, but after his untimely death his art vanished from public discourse. How did Szyk achieve and lose such renown? Irvin Ungar has spent the last 25 years championing Szyk’s work, most recently publishing the National Jewish Book Award-winning Arthur Szyk: Soldier in Art. We talk about his introduction to Szyk, the impact of Szyk’s work in his native Poland, the UK and the US, the way Szyk’s work in so many forms — illuminated manuscripts, Persian miniatures, political cartooning, and more — may have contributed to his posthumous decline, and why Syzk’s Haggadah is like Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling. We also get into Irv’s dayenu moments promoting Szyk’s legacy, the curious story of how Irv entered the rabbinate as an alternative to serving in Vietnam, left to become an antiquarian bookseller, and how his rabbinic training let him recognize Arthur Szyk as an upstanding man. Give it a listen! And go buy Arthur Szyk: Soldier in Art!
Irvin Ungar, a former pulpit rabbit and antiquarian bookseller, has devoted the past quarter-century to scholarship relating to illustrator Arthur Szyk. He has curated numerous Szyk exhibitions worldwide, including those at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the Deutsches Historiches Museum in Berlin, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Library of Congress, and the New York Historical Society. He is the author of the National Jewish Book award winning Arthur Szyk: Soldier in Art, publisher of the limited edition of The Szyk Haggadah, and producer of the documentary film Soldier in Art: Arthur Szyk.
“The writing has a plan, and it does whatever it wants with me.”
Fresh from her book tour, Ilana C. Myer joins the show to talk about her new novel, Fire Dance (Tor). We get into the jump she made for her second book, the process of crossing Celtic poets with troubadours and Mediterranean aesthetics and mythology as part of her world-building, the challenge of seducing the reader, why she writes fantasy instead of history, and her fixation on “books with magic in them” as a kid. We also get into how she balances life in Israel and the US, her process of self-discovery and her religious epiphany in a college astronomy class, the challenge of shutting out social media voices while keeping up a strong Twitter presence, and more! Give it a listen! And go buy Fire Dance (and Ilana’s first novel Last Song Before Night)!
“Without our history, without our traditions, who are we? I refuse to be someone who doesn’t have an identity.”
“You can’t predict how people will respond to the work. To retain my sanity and creative integrity, I had to not pay attention to the responses, even the positive ones.”
Ilana C. Myer has worked as a journalist in Jerusalem and a cultural critic for various publications. As Ilana Teitelbaum she has written book reviews and critical essays for The Globe and Mail, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Salon, and the Huffington Post. Last Song Before Night was her first novel, followed by Fire Dance. She lives in New York.
“My old work was about the absence of meaning; it’s just trying to be funny.”
Michael Kupperman rejoins the show to talk about his new book, All The Answers (Gallery 13)! We talk about his father Joel Kupperman’s experience on the Quiz Kids radio and TV shows and how it led to a multigenerational chain of trauma, the shifting of gears from absurdist humor to heartfelt family memoir, the airing of family secrets, the five-plus years of work this book required, and more. We also get into how Mike learned to be a father on the fly, the way his PR push for the book has turned into an ongoing therapy session, why his comedy performance may have been a time-delayed act of paternal rebellion, why it’s important for him to reach a non-comics audience, the change to a mainstream house after working with comics publishers, and his assessment of his career and his perceived lack of respect (that would be the aforementioned therapy session). Give it a listen! And go buy All The Answers!
“When you start thinking about your own family dynamics, there’s a kind of inertia involved, but when you push past that, you start to have some startling realizations.”
“My father desperately wanted me and my sibling to be normal, whatever that is, but he didn’t recognize how deeply abnormal we are.”
Michael Kupperman’s comic drawings and strips have appeared in dozens of publications including The New Yorker, Fortune, The New York Times, Nickelodeon Magazine, Forbes, Fast Company, Esquire, Heavy Metal, and McSweeney’s; comic books for DC, Marvel, and others; and been collected in multiple books, including five of his own. They’ve also been animated for Saturday Night Live, Adult Swim, and Comedy Central. Conan O’Brien described him as “probably one of the greatest comedy brains on the planet.” All The Answers is his first serious book. Michael lives in Brooklyn with his wife, Muire, and son, Ulysses.
This is his second appearance on The Virtual Memories Show. Check out his first one, recorded at TCAF 2013.