Maria Popova

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Maria Popova
Maria Popova (2).jpg
Popova in 2014
Born (1984-07-28) July 28, 1984 (age 38)
Alma materUniversity of Pennsylvania
Occupation(s)Writer, blogger, and critic

Maria Popova (Bulgarian: Мария Попова; born 28 July 1984)[not verified in body] is a Bulgarian-born, American-based essayist, book author, poet,[1] and writer of literary and arts commentary and cultural criticism that has found wide appeal both for her writing and for the visual stylistics that accompany it.[2]

In 2006, she started the blog Brain Pickings, an online publication that she has fought to maintain advertisement-free. The blog, renamed to The Marginalian upon its 15th birthday in 2021,[3] features her writing on books, the arts, philosophy, culture, and other subjects.

In addition to her writing and related speaking engagements, she has served as an MIT Futures of Entertainment Fellow,[when?] as the editorial director at the higher education social network Lore,[when?] and has written for The New York Times, The Atlantic, Wired UK, and other publications. Since 2010, she has resided in Brooklyn, New York. She is the creator of "The Universe in Verse", a large-scale annual celebration of science and the natural world through poetry.

Early life[edit]

Maria Popova was born on 28 July 1984[citation needed] in Bulgaria.[where?][4] Popova's parents are ethnic Bulgarians[citation needed] who, as noted by Bruce Feiler for The New York Times, "met as teenage exchange students in Russia ... [h]er father ... an engineering student who later became an Apple salesman ... her mother ... studying library science".[5] In interview, Popova states that in childhood, one of her grandmothers often read to her from a collection of encyclopedias.[6] As recounted in interview to Geoff Wolinetz of, Popova first worked when she was about 8 years old,[7] making the Bulgarian yarn folk art dolls called martenitsas,[8] worn beginning on the first of March where Popova describes selling them on the street as children would sell drinks at a lemonade stand.[7]

Undergraduate education and early work[edit]

Popova graduated from the American College of Sofia in Bulgaria, a secondary school, in 2003.[9] She relocated to attend the University of Pennsylvania,[4][10] where she earned a degree in communications, though for years, up to 2012, her grandmother had wanted her to get an MBA.[10] Popova paid for her tuition by working four part-time jobs on top of a full college course load: as an advertising representative for The Daily Pennsylvanian, as an intern for a local writer, as an employee for a work-study job at the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, and as a staff member for a small start-up advertising agency in Philadelphia.[7]

In 2005, while Popova worked at an advertising agency, she noticed that her co-workers were circulating information within the advertising industry around the office for inspiration. However, Popova thought creativity was better sparked with exposure to information outside of the industry one was familiar with. In an effort to stir creativity, she regularly sent emails to the entire office containing five things that had nothing to do with advertising, but were meaningful, interesting, or important.[5] Because of the popularity of the emails, Popova felt that there was an "intellectual hunger for that sort of cross-disciplinary curiosity and self-directed learning."[6]

She enrolled in a night class to learn web design, took Brain Pickings online, and let the project grow organically.[6]

Relocation to the United States[edit]

Popova describes the period of coming to the U.S. to Hannah Levintova of Mother Jones; in this 2012 interview she states:

I didn't immigrate. I'm here on a visa, and I'm not an American citizen. I don't know if you followed the ... situation in 2007 and 2008? ... Every year, the government has a visa quota—they will give, say, 65,000 H1-B work visas for foreigners who are going to work in the country for an American company. And so, normally, they would open up the application process, and the quota would run out in the first three weeks... So, after graduation, I had a job [lined up], and we applied for that visa, but that was the year “Visagate” happened: The first day of applications, for the first time in history, the government got three times their quota on the very first day. So, they panicked and thought the only thing to do was to make it a raffle for everyone that applied on the first day, and then automatically reject everyone after that. So, we’d filed for the first day, but I was in the two-thirds that didn’t get it, so the whole envelope got returned unopened. So then I got the OPT [Optional Practical Training]—which entitles you to a year’s worth of work with a company within the scope of your major. We tried again in 2008, and same thing—the whole envelope got returned unopened. So, I had to leave the country! I went back to Bulgaria for a year.[10][excessive quote]

Popova describes returning to Bulgaria in 2008 in interview to the Bulgarian news journal Capital, and how she and a trio of friends organized a conference modeled after the American TED Talks, which they called "TEDxBG".[11] Popova further describes the outcome of the events—her eventual visa receipt—to Mother Jones: "When the application process lightened up... I moved to LA—which I really resented more than anyone’s ever resented a city in the history of resenting cities. And now I’m finally in New York, and I’m here to stay."[10] As of 2012, she was living in Brooklyn.[10][needs update]

Work as a writer[edit]

If something interests me and is both timeless and timely, I write about it. Much of what is published online is content designed to be dead within hours, so I find most of my material offline. I gravitate more and more towards historical things that are somewhat obscure and yet timely in their sensibility and message.

— Popova in December 2012[12][excessive quote]

Popova has written for The Atlantic,[10][13] Wired UK,[10] GOOD,[10] The Huffington Post,[14] and NiemanLab.[10][15]

In 2006, she began the blog Brain Pickings as an email sent each week to seven of her friends. Krista Tippett in On Being describes it as "[n]ow a website, Twitter feed, and weekly digest... cover[ing] a wide variety of cultural topics: history, current events, and images and texts from the past."[4] It includes several sections and has graphics, photographs, and illustrations in addition to written content.[5] As of December 2012, The Guardian was reporting that the blog had "1.2 million readers a month and 3m page views".[12] Anne-Marie Slaughter describes Popova's blog as "like walking into the Museum of Modern Art and having somebody give you a customized, guided tour."[5]

Popova is also author of Figuring, published by Random House in 2019.,[16] and The Snail with the Right Heart: A True Story, published by Enchanted Lion Books in 2021, and co-editor of A Velocity of Being: Letters to A Young Reader, published by Enchanted Lion Books in 2018,[17] and

In Figuring, which appeared at No. 5 on the New York Times bestseller list upon publication, Popova examines connections between a variety of scientists, writers, and artists, many of them women, and how they created meaning in their lives.[18][19] Figuring won the 2019 Los Angeles Times Book Prize in the Science and Technology category.[20]

Side projects and partnerships[edit]

In addition to running Brain Pickings, Popova has a number of side projects. She maintains a Twitter account,[21] and a newsletter.[citation needed] In 2012, she created the "Literary Jukebox", a sub-site where she matches quotes from books with songs. "Music, for me, is an enormous trigger of mnemonic associations – of time, place, mood, emotion, the smell of fresh-cut grass behind your best friend’s house when you were 18 and first heard that song."[22]

Popova also has various partnerships with prominent organizations. She is an MIT Futures of Entertainment Fellow.[when?][23] Additionally, Popova serves as the editorial director at the higher education social network Lore, run by Noodle.[24] She edits Explore, a partnership site with the Noodle educational search company.[25]

Content selection and output[edit]

Popova filters through the large amounts of content she reads each day through a detailed selection process. When choosing content for Brain Pickings, she asks herself three things:

Is it interesting enough to leave the reader with something – a thought, an idea, a question – after the immediate fulfillment of the self-contained reading or viewing experience? Is it evergreen in a way that makes it just as interesting in a month or a year? Am I able to provide enough additional context – historical background, related past articles, complementary reading or viewing material – or build a pattern around it to make it worth for the reader?[26]

When choosing material to publish on Brain Pickings, she aims to "share content that is meaningful. Often, it’s timeless."[27] Popova also seeks out content that has narrative. As she states, "Curation is a form of pattern recognition – pieces of information or insight which over time amount to an implicit point of view."[28] Popova publishes this information in tweet form when she does not have much to add. On the other hand, she publishes this as blog posts when she feels she can deepen the subject with historical background or additional materials.[28]

Awards and recognitions[edit]

Maria Popova has received numerous instances of media recognition for her work. In 2012, she was named number 51 of the 100 most creative people in business by Fast Company magazine.[27] Popova was featured in 30 under 30 by Forbes as one of the most influential individuals in Media and was listed on “The 140 Best Twitter Feeds of 2012 List” by Time magazine.[29][30] Popova's work has also been spotlighted and profiled in publications such as The New York Times.[5]


Affiliate advertising[edit]

Popova has been very vocal about her dislike for traditional advertising, and has repeatedly expressed her pride on being advertising-free:

It doesn’t put the reader’s best interests first – it turns them into a sellable eyeball, and sells that to advertisers. As soon as you begin to treat your stakeholder as a bargaining chip, you’re not interested in broadening their intellectual horizons or bettering their life. I don’t believe in this model of making people into currency. You become accountable to advertisers, rather than your reader.[31][excessive quote]

In 2013, Popova received criticism on how she championed her site to be "ad-free" and a "labor of love" that requires reader donations to sustain itself, while she covertly received revenue from affiliate advertising from Amazon. Tom Bleymaier, founder of a startup in Palo Alto, California, wrote a post on an anonymous Tumblr blog calling Popova out for her actions. Using his own calculations, Bleymaier extrapolated that Popova could make anywhere between $240,000 and $432,000 a year with these affiliate advertisements.[32]

This received much media attention from sources such as Reuters and PandoDaily.[32][33]

This incident has sparked a more general debate on the Internet about whether or not affiliate advertisements are "sneaky" or "deceptive". Popova has since updated her donation page on Brain Pickings to acknowledge the fact that she receives income from affiliate advertisements.[33]

Curator's Code[edit]

In 2012, Popova created The Curator's Code, a project (now suspended) by Popova with input from designer Kelli Anderson. The Curator's Code is a code of conduct for curators on the web to use. This proposed method is an attempt to codify source attribution on the internet to ensure that the intellectual labor of information discovery is honored.[34] Under the code, the "via" symbol indicates direct discovery, where the "hat tip" symbol indicates an indirect link of discovery.

The Curator's Code was controversial, and received mixed responses.[weasel words] The announcement of this project elicited feedback from one blogger who "worr[ied] about the meaning of curation".[28] In that blog post, Marco Arment stated that "codifying 'via' links with confusing symbols is solving the wrong problem".[28] Most criticism[weasel words] of The Curator's Code voiced uncertainty about its ability to solve the problems of online attribution. Some critics argued that the problems of online attribution are not due to a lack of codified syntax, but rather due to the "economics and realities of online publishing".[28]

Personal life[edit]

Popova has sought to maintain a degree of personal anonymity, with emphasis on her writing rather than on herself.[5][needs update]

Popova has participated in amateur bodybuilding.[citation needed] She states in an interview that she "fell into" the world of bodybuilding during her freshman year at the University of Pennsylvania when her dormitory's resident adviser recommended that she compete in a bodybuilding show, although she no longer competes.[35][full citation needed]


  1. ^ "The Age of the Possible". Orion.
  2. ^ Feiler, Bruce (30 November 2012). "She's Got Some Big Ideas". The New York Times.
  3. ^ Popova, Maria (2021-10-23). "Becoming the Marginalian: After 15 Years, Brain Pickings Reborn". The Marginalian. Retrieved 2021-11-09.
  4. ^ a b c Tippett, Krista & Popova, Maria (February 7, 2019) [May 14, 2015]. Maria Popova: Cartographer of Meaning in a Digital Age [interview] (audio transcript). Minneapolis, MN: The On Being Project. Retrieved 20 December 2019. Ms. Tippett:... From a weekly email to seven friends in 2006, Brain Pickings became a website, a Twitter feed, a weekly digest, and much more, and has been included in the Library of Congress permanent web archive since 2012. Maria Popova was born in Communist Bulgaria, and she came to the United States to study at the University of Pennsylvania. She started Brain Pickings as an internal office experiment while she was working one of multiple jobs to pay for her studies.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Feiler, Bruce (November 30, 2012). "Fashion & Style: She's Got Some Big Ideas". The New York Times. This Life. Retrieved December 20, 2019. Her parents met as teenage exchange students in Russia and had her almost immediately. Her father was an engineering student who later became an Apple salesman; her mother was studying library science.
  6. ^ a b c Essmaker, Tina & Popova, Maria (November 27, 2012). "Maria Popova". The Great Discontent (interview). Sioux Falls, SD: TGD™/Institute of Possibility. Retrieved December 20, 2019.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  7. ^ a b c Wolinetz, Geoff & Popova, Maria (June 24, 2010). "Brain Pickings blogger Maria Popova: 'I'm not a big believer in saving' [interview]". Bundle (online). Archived from the original on October 28, 2012. Retrieved October 5, 2013.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  8. ^ "Cultural practices associated to the 1st of March Bulgaria, North Macedonia, Republic of Moldova and Romania". UNESCO. 2017. Retrieved 14 September 2020.
  9. ^ Бонева-Благоева, Йорданка (16 December 2015). "Как блогърката Мария Попова от Brain Pickings избира Американския колеж за свое училище" (in Bulgarian).
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i Levintova, Hannah & Popova, Maria (2012). "Maria Popova's Beautiful Mind". Mother Jones (interview). San Francisco, CA: Foundation for National Progress (January/February). Retrieved 20 January 2019. For years, Maria Popova's septuagenarian grandmother in Bulgaria wished her granddaughter would just do the sensible thing and get an MBA. Instead, the 27-year-old Brooklynite has spent the past six years developing A transplant from Bulgaria, Popova moved to the states to study at the University of Pennsylvania. She graduated with a communications degree..>{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  11. ^ Рудникова, Ива & Попова, Мария [Rudnikova, Iva & Popova, Maria] (May 20, 2010). "Предай нататък: Българската звезда в Twitter Мария Попова за любопитството, креативността и медиите на бъдещето [Pass it on: Bulgarian Twitter Star Maria Popova on Curiosity, Creativity and the Media of the Future ]". КАПИТАΛ [CAPITAL] (online). Sophia, BG: Economedia. Retrieved December 20, 2019. (IR:) Мария Попова е на 26 години и от няколко месеца живее в Лос Анджелис... / (MP:) В края на 2008 г. се върнах в България за известно време, където с трима приятели организирах TEDxBG, конференция по модела на ТЕD, този януари. / На 26 съм... / През 2003 г. се преместих във Филаделфия, където завърших University of Pennsylvania. Буквално следващата седмица се преместих в LA – тук съм от края на януари и въпреки, че градът не е по мой вкус (аз съм морално против колите по екологични съображения, от години се придвижвам на колело, а велосипедирането в LA e пчти непосилно), има си и своите предимства. [(IR:) Maria Popova is 26 years old and has lived in Los Angeles for several months. / (MP:) At the end of 2008, I returned to Bulgaria for a while, where I and three friends organized a TEDxBG, a TED model conference, this January. / I'm 26... / In 2003, I moved to Philadelphia, where I graduated from the University of Pennsylvania. Just next week, I moved to LA - I've been here since the end of January and even though the city is not to my taste (I am morally against cars for environmental reasons, I've been cycling for years and cycling in LA is almost impossible), it has its advantages as well.]{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  12. ^ a b Sweeney, Kathy (December 29, 2012). "Maria Popova: why we need an antidote to the culture of Google". The Observer. Retrieved 2013-01-09.
  13. ^ "Maria Popova". The Atlantic. The Atlantic Monthly Group. Retrieved December 1, 2012.
  14. ^ Popova, Maria; curator, ContributorInterestingness; Geek, Semi-Secret; UK, founder of Brain Pickings Regular contributor to Wired; GOOD. (2010-06-03). "Abstracting Atlantis: Scientists Find Evidence of Mayan Underwater City". HuffPost. Retrieved 2020-01-12. {{cite web}}: |first2= has generic name (help)
  15. ^ "Nieman Journalism Lab » Pushing to the Future of Journalism".
  16. ^ Popova, Maria (2020). Figuring. ISBN 978-0-525-56542-0. OCLC 1199010370.
  17. ^ Popova, Maria (2019). Velocity of Being: Letter to a Young Reader. Enchanted Lion Books, LLC. ISBN 978-1-59270-228-2. OCLC 1080916158.
  18. ^ Smith, P. D. (2020-02-07). "Figuring by Maria Popova review – distillation of a lifetime's reading". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2020-10-28.
  19. ^ Sternburg, Janet (22 May 2019). "The Mind Has a Mind of Its Own: On Maria Popova's "Figuring"". Los Angeles Review of Books. Retrieved 2020-10-28.
  20. ^ "Los Angeles Times Book Prizes Winners Announced". Los Angeles Times. 2020-07-13. Retrieved 2020-10-28.
  21. ^ Maria Popova. "Maria Popova (brainpicker) on Twitter". Twitter, Inc. Retrieved 27 October 2013.
  22. ^ Klose, Stephanie (August 9, 2013). "Q&A: Maria Popova on Literary Jukebox". Library Journal. Retrieved October 5, 2013.
  23. ^ "Futures of Entertainment: People". Retrieved 2020-01-12.
  24. ^ Miller, Tessa (September 12, 2012). "I'm Maria Popova and this is how I work". Gawker Media. Retrieved December 1, 2012.
  25. ^ "Explore". Retrieved 27 October 2013.
  26. ^ Donnelly, Kate (October 11, 2011). "Maria Popova". From Your Desks. Retrieved October 5, 2013.
  27. ^ a b Kaganskiy, Julia. "How to make the Internet more personal". Mansueto Ventures LLC. Archived from the original on November 19, 2012. Retrieved December 1, 2012.
  28. ^ a b c d e Arment, Marco (March 12, 2012). "I'm not a curator". Marco Arment. Retrieved October 1, 2013.
  29. ^ Bercovici, Jeff (December 17, 2012). "30 Under 30, Media". Forbes. Archived from the original on December 31, 2012. Retrieved October 1, 2013.
  30. ^ Townsend, Allie (March 15, 2012). "Maria Popova". Time Inc. Archived from the original on October 12, 2013. Retrieved October 5, 2013.
  31. ^ Ingram, Mathew (February 14, 2013). "The Brainpickings brouhaha and the problem with affiliate links". paidContent. Retrieved October 5, 2013.
  32. ^ a b Salmon, Felix (February 14, 2013). "Blogonomics, Maria Popova edition". Thomson Reuters. Archived from the original on February 14, 2013. Retrieved October 1, 2013.
  33. ^ a b Mckenzie, Hamish (February 14, 2013). "Dear Jonah Lehrer and Maria Popova: Just own up and apologize". PandoDaily. Retrieved October 1, 2013.
  34. ^ Carr, David (March 11, 2012). "A Code of Conduct for Content Aggregators". The New York Times. Retrieved October 1, 2013.
  35. ^ Lazarus, Catie & Popova, Maria (7 January 2014). Brain Pickings' Maria Popova [interview] (streaming video). New York, NY: Employee of the Month. Retrieved 20 December 2019.[full citation needed]

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]