City Spotlight: Philadelphia: Publishing 'Wit'
"I think Philadelphia's long history is at the core of its cultural identity," Weiser says. "We are proud of our role in history as the home where independence began, yet we are still a mainly working-class city that gives us a humble side, too. When I travel to other cities and say I'm from Philadelphia, I am surprised by how many people still think of Philadelphia as Rocky's home and a place to get a great cheesesteak. Even residents don't always know all we have to offer, like our first poet laureate, Sonia Sanchez, and our first youth poet laureate, Siduri Beckman."
"A lot of writers and artists are inspired by the history here," says Nathaniel Popkin, co-editor of Hidden City Daily. "They respond to what's here, what's missing or gone—and all that's inspiring material to reflect on and relate to if you're an artist or a writer. I do this very directly, in part through history, in part through literature by seeing our time in other times, while being charmed by the layers. You can read the human layers all around us."
Popkin's novel, Lion and Leopard, which comes out in November, is based on the lives of a group of 19th century Philadelphia painters. "I was drawn to the story and to fictionalize it just through my own personal confrontation with the city … my own interrogation of the layers of the urban fabric, the history of art, writing, thinking, publishing," he says.
Philadelphia's strengths, Popkin says, emanate from a mix of projects, approaches and talent. He runs off a tally of local publishers: two strong university presses and a handful of niche book publishers (e.g. Camino); nationally-known, consumer-oriented presses Quirk Books and Running Press; a "quirky literary press"; a varied stock of magazine publishers. Philly-based Head in the Hand (which is putting out Popkin's book) is "working on a McSweeney's Model," and he believes a good way forward for the city would be to "understand the various strands of the Bay Area's lit community."