Ten years ago, Denne Michele Norris was a student at Sarah Lawrence College, pursuing her MFA in fiction. It was the early 2010s, and the literary internet was just starting to come into its own. Norris’s peers were all racing to get their writing online—and one of the publications to which everyone was submitting was the newly founded Electric Literature.
“Electric Lit was the hottest place to try and publish,” Norris recalled. “It was this sort of fearless renegade space that was rather left of center, both politically and aesthetically.” As a burgeoning writer, she was drawn to the “innovative” and “experimental” work that the site championed, she said—“work that wouldn’t have been published elsewhere.”
A decade later, Norris has been named Electric Literature’s latest editor-in-chief, starting on August 10. She succeeds Jess Zimmerman, who had held the role since 2017 before stepping away earlier this summer. In the position, she will oversee all of Electric Literature's editorial operations apart from its two weekly literary magazines, The Commuter and Recommended Reading, which are edited by Kelly Luce and Electric Literature's executive director, Halimah Marcus, respectively. Under her purview is all of the site's book coverage and nonfiction, including personal essays and criticism. Collectively, Electric Literature's content reaches a digital readership of five million annually.
Marcus praised former editor-in-chief Zimmerman for making the publication “more forward-thinking, expansive, and successful,” adding that she is “excited to see Denne carry that torch... while bringing her own unique sensibility and passions to the role.” She also noted that Norris will be “the first Black and openly trans editor-in-chief of a major U.S. literary publication.”
Norris called the position “a dream,” saying that it's her "first opportunity, professionally, to really take the helm and lead,” as well as ”to be full-time literary.” Still, she comes to the position with plenty of bona-fides. As fiction editor at Apogee Journal, she selected and edited “Eula,” the first published story in Deesha Philyaw’s acclaimed 2020 story collection The Secret Lives of Church Ladies; later, as a fiction editor for The Rumpus, she edited multiple short stories that went on to win the PEN/Robert J. Dau Prize. Norris is also an accomplished writer, having netted fellowships from MacDowell and Tin House and published stories in McSweeney’s and American Short Fiction, and a cohost of Food 4 Thot, a roundtable podcast about sex, identity, culture, and reading.
Norris is eager to rekindle the radical energy that characterized the site back in her MFA days—and, she said, “I like to think that naming me as the next EIC is a smoke signal that Electric Literature intends to reclaim that space within the industry loudly and proudly.” She aims to reestablish the site as “a home for writers and stories that are pushing the cultural conversation forward, as opposed to reacting and responding to it,” and to expand its scope in terms of “what and who we are publishing, and from where,” citing Camonghne Felix and Addie Tsai as writers whose boundary-pushing work she would like to publish.
“I want everyone talking about our pieces, and I want us to publish influential work that reflects the times we are in and reimagines our future,” Norris said. In articulating her editorial vision, one word came up again and again: forward. “If there's one thing we've learned in the last year and a half,” she said, “it's that reimagination is what pushes us forward culturally, and the last thing we need is to be in stasis.”