Popkin Culture: A writer’s multifaceted exploration of the city expands to fiction

For Nathaniel Popkin, Philadelphia is an endless playground. He has explored the city through the lenses of journalism, film, essay and — with the October 30 release of his new novel, Lion and Leopard — fiction. 

Lion and Leopard gives a voice to Romantic painter John Lewis Krimmel (1786-1821), a German immigrant who challenged the norms of Rationalist art with his paintings of street scenes. Popkin felt a connection with Krimmel because he “shoot[s] in the same kinds of places that Krimmel would sketch and paint.” Krimmel died in an accident near the farm of Rationalist artist Charles Willson Peale, whose journal is missing pages from that day. Thus, a Philadelphia story was born. 

As founding editor of the web magazine, Hidden City, Popkin tells the stories behind unique structures and preservation efforts in Philadelphia. In his first two books, Song of the City (2002) and The Possible City (2008), Popkin breathed life into the city’s history via literary nonfiction. When asked about the switch to historical fiction in Lion and Leopard, Popkin says, “My work comes from a love of literature and an interest in the world around me — the city, history, what might be. [Fiction] is just a different form of that inquiry.” 

Lion and Leopard is published by The Head and the Hand Press, a craft publishing company based in Kensington. Explore at theheadandthehand.com.

Story by Katy Diana.