Denne Michele Norris made history this year when she became the editor in chief of Electric Literature; she is now the first Black transgender woman to helm a major American literary publication. A published writer herself, Norris’s work has appeared in esteemed outlets like McSweeney’s and American Short Fiction. The New Yorker also co-hosts the podcast Food 4 Thot, a popular roundtable about sex, identity, and reading, alongside Joseph Osmundson, Tommy Pico, and Fran Tirado.
The Out100 honoree wears many hats. "I'm a writer, editor, and podcaster. When you really get down to it, that means I'm a storyteller — though I come at it from several angles," she says. "As an editor, I support many writers in helping them craft and refine stories, essays, novels, and memoirs. As a writer, I work through the complexities and contradictions of my own life for the sake of better understanding the world and telling the stories I most needed to find, and didn't find, during the darkest and most joyous moments in my own life. And I think of podcasting as being in cahoots with my friends; it's my opportunity to elevate the lives and stories of those in our community who've rarely been afforded honest media representation."
Norris, a former figure skater and “lapsed violist,” cites her embrace of her trans identity to her family and the world as her proudest accomplishment this year. “Every step I’ve taken — whether writing about it or simply stepping out of my apartment in an outfit that helps me feel closest to my authentic self — feels like a small step in reclaiming who I am, and doing it in the image of who I’ve always known myself to be,” she attests.
Despite her many accomplishments, Norris has had her battles with self-doubt. "In early 2021, I realized how much I wanted to edit professionally," she shares. "I'm passionate about building relationships with writers and shepherding into the world work that pushes our cultural conversation forward. I knew I'd be a good editor, but, frankly, I didn't expect the publishing industry to value my vision and intentions enough to give me a role that would actually lead to some professional influence and allow me to edit full time."
"I was so pessimistic about this that during the application process to become the next editor in chief of Electric Literature, I almost withdrew my resume from consideration, thinking my time was better spent on other pursuits," Norris adds. "This kind of shooting myself in the foot has at different times in my life been a pattern, but it's a pattern I'm working hard to break."
Lucky for the industry, she stayed the course. At Electric Literature, she looks forward to “continuing to publish work that pushes boundaries, helps break barriers, and redefines what it means to be literary.” And look out for her debut novel, which is "finally just about ready to go to publishers, so hopefully, that will be making its way into the world soon enough."
A version of this article appeared in Out's 2021 Out100 issue, which is on newsstands November 30. Since this is also Out's 300th issue, we are running a $3 promotion for a one-year subscription. Subscribe now (the promotion ends on December 1). Otherwise, support queer media and subscribe outside of the promotion — or download yours for Amazon, Kindle, Nook, or Apple News.