Virtual Memories Show 277:
Nathaniel Popkin

“A city, like a book, can be read.”

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.”

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes!

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About our Guest

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.

Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at the Philadelphia Athenaeum on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 Microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of Mr. Popkin by me. It’s on my instagram.

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