In his work as a writer and editor of fiction, nonfiction, film, criticism, and journalism, Nathaniel Popkin explores memory and loss: urban and historical change, architectural palimpsests, ecological grief, and the struggle for the democratic ideal.
In an essay published in the The New York Times in 2018, he described the present era of eco-crisis as the “age of loss.” His latest work, a personal and philosophical book-length essay, To Reach The Spring: From Complicity to Consciousness in the Age of Eco-Crisis, was published by New Door Books in December 2020. The book is an urgent and deeply felt call to face our complicity in the earth’s destruction.
In 2019, Popkin helped pilot The Valley of the Possible, a research program and residency in southern Chile that asks artists to frame new human responses to deforestation, species extinction, and the ongoing effects of colonization.
His three novels and three other books of nonfiction interrogate memory and loss with moral complexity and intellectual range. The Year of the Return (Open Books, 2019) revisits bicentennial Philadelphia, a place of profound social unrest, to tell the story of a Jewish family and an African American family, united by marriage then by grief. In Everything Is Borrowed (New Door Books, 2018), Popkin explores regret and shame, with dual narratives of two men of the same name: one a contemporary architect, the other a Jewish anarchist of another era. His first novel, Lion and Leopard (The Head and The Hand Press, 2013) examines duplicity and originality among the earliest American artists, and was a finalist for the Foreword Reviews Indie Book of the Year Award.
In addition to these books, Popkin is the co-editor (with Stephanie Feldman) of an anthology, Who Will Speak for America? (Temple University Press, 2018), which brings together a range of exceptional literary voices in response to the crisis in American civic life.
Popkin was co-founder of the web magazine Hidden City Daily and was the founding reviews editor of Cleaver Magazine. His literary criticism and essays have appeared in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Gulf Coast, Kenyon Review, LitHub, Tablet, Public Books, and Rain Taxi, among many other publications.
As a close observer of Philadelphia and American urban history, Popkin has sought a fresh way to understand urban change through layers of human endeavor. His book Finding the Hidden City (Temple University Press, 2017), written with Peter Woodall and photographer Joseph E.B. Elliott, follows The Possible City (Camino Books, 2008) and Song of the City (Four Walls Eight Windows-Basic Books, 2002). Popkin is writer of the forthcoming documentary series American Experiment: The Struggle for Philadelphia and the film Sisters in Freedom, on a multi-racial group of abolitionist women of the 1830s, winner of the 2019 Mid-Atlantic Emmy for best documentary.
He was the guest architecture critic of the Philadelphia Inquirer from 2011-12.
Read PenAmerica’s Jared Jackson interview with Nathaniel Popkin on the Pen Ten, January 5, 2021.
Read Deborah Kalb’s interview with Nathaniel Popkin on Book Q & As with Deborah Kalb, December 1, 2020.
Listen to Nathaniel Popkin discuss his creative process, inspirations, and the trepidation of writing The Year of The Return with Mitzi Rapkin of the First Draft Podcast on LitHub.
Listen to Nathaniel Popkin discuss his work with Gil Roth on the Virtual Memories Show podcast.
Read Philadelphia Inquirer book editor John Timpane’s profile of Nathaniel.
“Nathaniel Popkin is a talented historian with a focus on Philadelphia and the early history of the US … but he’s really too good a writer just to be a historian (no offense to historians) so, he writes novels, beautifully written novels of a ‘lost America’ … but he’s too intellectually rigorous just to be a novelist (no offense to novelists) so he writes some of the sharpest literary criticism out there … but he’s too interesting just to be a literary critic (no offense to literary critics) so he writes wonderful essays on architecture, design, urban planning, and preservation. Renaissance humanists, eat your hearts out. Nathaniel Popkin, in short, is a national treasure.”
—Morgan Meis, winner of the Whiting Award, author of Dead People