Giancarlo DiTrapano, the fearless founder, publisher, and editor of Tyrant Books, died this past week at the age of forty-seven. Fiercely independent and loyal to his writers through and through, he was an irreplaceable presence in the literary world, a one-man powerhouse of the avant-garde. With New York Tyrant magazine, he championed rising talents such as Rachel B. Glaser and Brandon Hobson, and his record with Tyrant was astounding: over the course of a little more than a decade, he published Scott McClanahan’s The Sarah Book, Marie Calloway’s what purpose did i serve in your life, an omnibus of Garielle Lutz’s short stories, Atticus Lish’s Preparation for the Next Life (an excerpt from which appeared in the Fall 2014 issue and received the 2015 Plimpton Prize), and plenty of other strange, deeply felt, highly original books. His work was far from finished. In the months preceding his death, he had been cementing plans to launch a new press. Below, four of his writers and friends (with DiTrapano, there was little distinction) remember his generosity, dark sense of humor, and commitment to literature.
Giancarlo DiTrapano. Photo courtesy of Chelsea Hodson / MORS TUA VITA MEA Workshop.
I was at a reading, looking at a novel for sale on a folding table. A guy walked to my side and said what’s up. I said I wanted to buy the novel but had spent all my money on beer. “Take it,” he said. Looked like somebody I’d work construction with. “Take it.” He put the book in my hand. This was the publisher of the book, Giancarlo DiTrapano. An open person, a kind person. He’d just give a stranger something, no reason. I knew him only five years. Gone way, way, way too soon. Can’t think of anybody cooler. Was more alive than anybody else I knew.
I’ve always admired people who dream to do something and then seemingly before they’ve even woken up from the dream, there they are in the midst of it. At a kitchen table in a cramped apartment, launching something beautiful. That’s what he did. There’s a lot of talk about being “punk rock,” about being an individual—how is it even possible to walk one’s own path, by one’s own standards? I don’t know. But all you’d have to do is look at my shelf of releases from Tyrant Books. There they are, twenty of them in a row. Open any one. You can see the answer in there. Authors he deeply loved. Telling stories they had to tell. Each author could explain how passionate Giancarlo was. How when he believed in someone, in something, it was almost impossible to change his mind. You might get in a blowout fight over what the book needed, but in the end, what was birthed into the world was right, was beloved. Was real. Didn’t come out of a boardroom. The opposite. He rooted for the underdog. He helped the underdog come up into brighter light.
How to explain? Here’s something: most people think of Twitter as a wasteland. But Giancarlo loved it because it was raw language. People being themselves, saying too much, free and loose, with too much blood and guts. And that’s how he discovered many artists. One of the nicest stories I heard was him talking about getting the manuscript for the excellent novel Welfare, by Steve Anwyll. An unsolicited DM asking if Giancarlo wanted to read the manuscript came in to his Twitter. Sure, send it. Gian opened the file in bed around midnight and kept reading and reading and couldn’t pull his eyes off. The sun came up. He finished the book and wrote an email to Steve and said he wanted to publish it. That’s all it was. No middle man. No overly careful, calculated consideration. Let’s do this. Let’s go. This must come into the world.
I wish everybody who reads this remembrance could become more like that. What do you want to see come into the world? How can you bring it into the world today, even just a little bit? There’s much more to say about Gian—he was hilarious, playful, a hero of mine, a friend, always a prince to me, even when he should have screamed. One time I was waiting for him on a street corner, expecting him to come up one way when he came around the other and pantomimed shooting me to death with a hundred bullets. “Got ya, sucker.” Yeah, you did. Rest in peace, Gian. Much respect to you, much love.
Bud Smith is a writer from Jersey City, New Jersey. His short story “Violets” appeared in the Summer 2020 issue.
On December 25, 2020, Gian tweeted a quote from Pope Francis: “The son of God was born an outcast to tell us that every outcast is a child of God.” Unlike so many, Gian actually treated outcasts like children of God. He loved them. His heart was bigger than any one person could contain; it overflowed out of him, into everyone he knew, and into the books he published. His ability to recognize something intangible in me and so many others, something that could be nourished and turned into literature, was truly rare. Through our years of constantly ripping on each other, Gian loved, encouraged, and kept me, giving me the confidence and space to grow. He essentially threw me the keys to New York Tyrant magazine, and he did the same when I wanted to start editing books. The only time I asked him for help with editing something, he said, “You already know what to do.”
I’ve joked that even after his death, Gian has still managed to saddle me with a bunch of underpaid work. I wish he were around so I could tell him how much I want to kill him. Gian was one of the few people who you could never go too far with; I trusted him in this emotional, intimate way. Almost immediately after he died, I kept thinking of dark jokes about it that I wished I could tell him. This, maybe most of all, is what I’ll miss. Gian was my friend.
Jordan Castro is the author of The Novelist (forthcoming June 2022 from Soft Skull) and the editor of Pets: An Anthology (Tyrant, 2020) and New York Tyrant magazine.
We ate French onion soup at the Odeon last week. We laughed about how years ago I’d tweeted a picture of a book of my tweets my friend had printed, and pretended Tyrant published it. It was a joke, but he DMed and asked who had really published it. This guy I’d idolized for years was in my DMs. Twitter was magic and so was he. He asked if I had a book. So of course I said yes I’ll send it right over. I rushed to the library at 2 A.M. and started writing this book just for him. Years later … it was done, he read it, and we were at the Odeon eating French onion soup, laughing. I keep listening to these WhatsApp voice memos he sent me while tripping on acid. God, he had the best voice and he said the best stuff. We talked about everything and nothing, it was so exciting, really magic—that’s the only word that comes to mind when I talk about him—like that first DM, so quick and so exciting. Everything he said made me want to start a book. So I did, because he asked.
Honor Levy graduated from Bennington College in 2020. Her first novel was set to be published by DiTrapano’s new press.
Gian was my editor, publisher, friend, uncle, dad, damn spiritual guide. He lived to tend—dump gasoline onto—the eternal flame. I loved him for that.
Sean Thor Conroe is an M.F.A. candidate at Columbia University. His first novel, FUCCBOI, was slated for release by DiTrapano’s new press.
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