Nicky Pessaroff, Editor, Pen World talks about pens, the fraternity and the magazine that has been its vanguard for close to four decades now!
PenLoversKolkata: When and why did you start Pen World Magazine?
Nicky Pessaroff, Editor, Pen World: Pen World was started in 1987 as a fine print magazine for the pen collecting community, which was experiencing one of its “golden ages” at the time. With the rise of high-end fountain pen brands and luxury limited editions, the pen community was becoming both more specialized and more varied. The idea was to create a U.S.-based niche magazine with a global reach and an international focus on the best that the writing instrument community had to offer.
My personal association with Pen World began in 2001 when I got a job out of college as an editorial assistant, then as an associate editor. I took over as editor-in-chief in 2016 from long-time editor and my personal mentor Laura Chandler.
My goal has been simple: to update Pen World both aesthetically and journalistically to best reflect the writing instruments enthusiast community as it exists today. We are more dedicated than ever to beautiful presentation, high production values, and unique long-form storytelling.
PenLoversKolkata: What, according to you, has been the contribution of Pen World to the fraternity of fountain pen lovers?
Nicky Pessaroff, Editor, Pen World: To me, Pen World’s greatest charge is to be the biographer of the pen community. We have been in print continuously for 35 years now, and our earliest issues are considered collectors’ items. The stories we tell are at once timely and timeless: we report on the newest items and trends in the community, yet we are always aware of the historical context of any brand or product we cover.
Our job is to reflect the community, not create it. We are both of and outside the community—enthusiastic participants and users, all of us; but PW also takes a step back from the fray and connects the proverbial dots to give handwriting enthusiasts a glimpse of the bigger picture in which we are all captured.
PenLoversKolkata: In a world that is going increasingly digital, how do you justify the efficacy of fountain pens in general and a print magazine on fountain pens like Pen World, in particular?
Nicky Pessaroff, Editor, Pen World: It is exactly because the world is going digital that fountain pens, handwritten communication, and a print magazine about these subjects are so necessary. Personal communication provides the cardinal directions of a virtual world that feels catawampus. It lets us know that there are real people behind those social media avatars, and handwritten communication forces us to think and take stock rather than just shoot off a message into the ether.
If anything, I think the onus is on digital communication to prove that it’s an effective and safe replacement for handwritten communication. Virtual communication is just as permanent as written communication—once you put something on the Web, it never goes away completely—but there’s this false sense of anonymity to it, which means you’re more likely to be careless and thoughtless in what you say. Handwriting, on the other hand, forces you to think about your intended audience, and so we tend to be more careful and thoughtful in what we say and how we say it. Handwritten communication is simply more meaningful and less…shall we say…meta?
Due to the fact that we are a highly glossy print magazine, I believe that our contribution is a far more tangible one—literally and figuratively—than a website or blog. Those media are great, but they are ephemeral, and they are constrained by the nature of virtual media, which is meant to be consumed in small bites and digested rapidly. Online media is yummy, but it’s quality fast food: healthy and filling, yes, but meant to be gulped down during a 15-minute lunch break. Pen World, on the other hand, is a three-course meal with a fine bottle of wine.
There is no online platform that can match us when it comes to visual production values and long-form storytelling. Our articles are meant to be enjoyed over and over again, to provide insights into humanity overall with fountain pens as the focal point.
PenLoversKolkata: From where you stand, how does the world of fountain pens and Inks look and going forward, do you feel that fountain pens are going to make a comeback?
Nicky Pessaroff, Editor, Pen World: How do fountain pens and inks look from my vantage point? In a word, colourful! There is more variety than ever, and in every sense: new colours, new materials, new engineering techniques, new makers, new hotbeds of creation all the time. From here in the United States to your home in India, the community is more open than ever to new voices and new makers, iconoclasts and traditionalists alike. And ironically, technology is what has allowed this. You can be a highly successful maker from your home garage. Anyone has access these days to precious materials. And mom-and-pop makers can reach a large global audience thanks to the Internet. It’s a far more egalitarian community with far less gatekeeping, and that’s a wonderful and exciting change.
As for whether fountain pens are making a comeback, I would paraphrase the rapper and actor LL Cool J: Don’t call it a comeback; we’ve been here for years! All that’s changed is that more people are noticing.
PenLoversKolkata: What should fountain pen manufacturers, fountain pen users, and academicians do to popularize the use of fountain pens among the young?
Nicky Pessaroff, Editor, Pen World: The younger generation is hungry for something tangible and real. What we need to do is come to them on their terms, listen to their needs, and reflect that need. What we shouldn’t do is tell them what they want; that’s just obnoxious. That means that those of us who have been around a while need to swallow our pride and adapt. That’s what we’ve done with Pen World, and we’ve been remarkably successful in attracting a younger base that I was told would never be interested in a print magazine.
At Pen World, we’ve done things in the past six years that were never done before. We’ve put ballpoints on our cover. We’ve introduced an “Ink of the Year” category to our lauded annual Pen Word Readers’ Choice Awards. We’ve profiled bloggers and online pen shops. We showcase whimsical desk accessories. We listen, and then we reflect. I think the pen and ink brands who have done the same have seen the most success.
PenLoversKolkata: Why don’t Indian pens feature in among the top fountain pen brands?
Nicky Pessaroff, Editor, Pen World: That is an excellent question, one that I’ve been wrestling with for years, and my honest answer is, “I don’t know.” I do think that cultural bias plays a role. For decades, India was looked at as the place where quality parts were built, not quality pens. I think that speaks to a greater, more troubling aspect of the West’s perception of South Asia with roots in colonialism, not to get too academic.
But I think things are changing. Whereas it used to be that only Japanese brands got traction in Western markets, I’m seeing a creative boom coming out of Asia, one that the American audience is loving. From South Korea to Taiwan to Singapore to India, Asian brands are finally being appreciated as great innovators and savvy marketers.
One need only look to the success of Krishna Ink, for one example, to see the ways that perceptions are finally changing. I think it’s only a matter of time before the Indian pen community becomes a major player in Western markets. And I don’t mean just as consumers—I mean as leading creators and innovators.
PenLoversKolkata: How can our readers subscribe to the Pen World Magazine?
Nicky Pessaroff, Editor, Pen World: Just go to penworld.com. There, we have special rates for international subscribers for both print and digital versions of Pen World. You’ll receive six issues each year with the highest production values that a print magazine can use.
And it’s a great time to subscribe! Our December issue just dropped with a fantastic cover story on Germany’s Waldmann Pen, which dates back to 1918. Also inside, you’ll find our annual winter special section, “Trends in ’22.” It features fountain pens, inks, and accessories from over 30 leading brands from all over the world. Our upcoming February 2022 issue features our annual “Vintage Inspiration” theme, and the April 2022 issue will include all the nominees for 2022 Pen World Readers’ Choice Awards. Voting is only open to PW subscribers, so if you want to vote, now is the time to join our family!
PenLoversKolkata: Lastly, is there anything that you would like to communicate to our readers?
Nicky Pessaroff, Editor, Pen World: To all the great Indian manufacturers out there, whether you’re a global conglomerate or a small maker, we want to know about you! Feel free to reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org or email me directly at email@example.com.
For more information: www.penworld.com