Nathaniel Popkin is a journalist, author, editor, film writer, historian, professor, and critic. Since 2002, with the publication of his first book, Song of the City: An Intimate History of the American Urban Landscape (Four Walls Eight Windows-Basic Books), he has been a distinctive urbanist voice in the conversation about Philadelphia’s past, present, and future and a careful observer of cities in the context of American life. According to Tom Sugrue, historian of the University of Pennsylvania, Popkin is “a visionary with two feet on the ground, a poet who finds verse in the everyday.”
Lion and Leopard, Popkin’s novel of historical fiction about the romantic movement that shook the foundations of the American art establishment in the early 19th century, will be published by the Head and the Hand Press in Fall 2013.
In September 2011, Popkin was a founding editor of the Hidden City Daily, a web magazine and public history project that covers architecture, design, planning, policy, and preservation. The site has quickly become the leading on-line source of news and analysis on the city’s changing built environment.
A long time contributor to the Philadelphia City Paper, in 2011-12, Popkin was the guest architecture critic of the Philadelphia Inquirer. He is also co-producer and senior editor of the documentary film series “Philadelphia: The Great Experiment,” a multi-part, mixed-medium project broadcast locally on Philadelphia’s ABC affiliate station.
In 2013, Popkin began a weekly column on books and literature on the region’s largest news website, Philly.com. He is regular contributor to the online culture and literature magazine The Smart Set and a contributor to the Pennsylvania Gazette, Cleaver Magazine, and Flash Fiction Italia.
Popkin was Pennsylvania Council on the Arts fellow in 2009 and the writer-in-residence at Philadelphia University 2007-2009, where he wrote his second book, The Possible City (Camino Books, 2008).
Descriptive and optimistic like Walt Whitman, Popkin combines literary scope with a keen understanding of urban policy, architecture, and history. Trained as a city planner at Penn’s Graduate School of Design (’94), Popkin’s writing often takes the reader onto the street, exploring the space where the built environment meets the metaphysical city of culture and ideas.
Philadelphia Inquirer book critic Carlin Romano called Song of the City “exquisitely literary … electric.” In Metropolitan Philadelphia: Living in the Presence of the Past, historian Steve Conn wrote that Song of the City is “the finest book about contemporary Philadelphia I have come across.” The book was chosen in 2007 as required text for Philadelphia University’s “First Year Experience” program. The novelist Beth Kephart, author of Flow: The Life and Times of Philadelphia’s Schuylkill River, called The Possible City “profoundly beautiful, often surprising.”