College senior Sof Sears founded hot knifea new digital music magazine.
Sears described the magazine, which is sponsored by the Kelly Writers House, as a “music-focused literary journal.” They sought inspiration for the writer’s Hot Knife Hanif Abdurraqibusing his writing as a model for magazine content.
“[Abdurraqib] blends music criticism, creative non-fiction and poetry in a way that is truly beautiful and hard to find,” Sears said. “Hot Knife was born out of my desire to find more work that followed this style.”
Mia McElhatton, a college freshman and editor of Hot Knife, said Abdurraqib’s style allows the writer to express a personal connection to the music in a way not possible in traditional music criticism.
“The style is much more about the author’s own relationship with the music and the powerful force music can have in our lives than just criticism,” McElhatton said.
Sears also cited their desire to push the boundaries of music and artists who are included in mainstream music journalism, expressing frustration with popular music publications like Rolling Stone and Pitchfork – which they say often cover disproportionately white and straight artists.
“I wanted to get out of that white, ‘dude’ mentality of writing about music because I think it’s often very reductive,” Sears said.
Sears pitched Hot Knife’s idea to Kelly Writers House staff in the spring of 2022, and it was approved shortly after.
Sears emphasized how supportive KWH staff have been through the process, explaining that “[the staff] have been so invested in helping me through the process in every way possible.
The magazine released its first digital content in October. Currently, the staff consists of five people who edit, advertise and publish the magazine’s content. Submissions are accepted from students at Penn and other universities.
Magazine content is published irregularly. Sears emphasized that they weren’t looking to maximize content production, but instead focused on submissions that matched their vision.
“If you want a straightforward concert review, you can go to Pitchfork,” Sears said. “What’s most important to me is that every piece we produce is thoughtful and interesting.”
College freshman and editor Eve Rosenblum, who is just starting to write concert cover for Hot Knife, said she was excited about the opportunity to try a form of journalism that doesn’t there are no strict rules.
“It’s so exciting to have complete creative freedom,” Rosenblum said. “I think it also speaks to the experience of music. It’s so unique to the individual, so I think it makes sense to write about it in a way that expresses that individuality.
To help produce content, Sears has worked to develop mutually beneficial relationships with local groups and feminist PR groups that offer their services free of charge to independent artists. They also hope the magazine will host at least one event per semester to showcase queer student musicians and local bands.
Sears pointed out that Hot Knife is first and foremost their “passion project.”
“If the underclasses involved in the magazine want to continue next year, I think they absolutely should,” Sears said. “But I feel liberated to not have a strong sense of urgency or stress. I just want to post as wide a range of different perspectives as I can while I’m here.