Remembering the Founder of New York Tyrant and Tyrant Books
Photo: Courtesy of Chelsea Hodson / Atelier MORS TUA VITA MEA
Giancarlo DiTrapano, founder, editor and publisher of Tyrant Books, died last weekend at the age of 47. I met him at a bar 13 or 14 years ago in Hell’s Kitchen. He was living on the West Side at the time. He had started a new magazine, New York Tyrant, the kind of thing that always interests me. He was cool – something to be said about him – cool in a way that I found intimidating when I first met him that night and always found intimidating there. was two weeks old when we had dinner in Brooklyn. It was impossible not to want to impress her. What idiocy: he was the sweetest of men, the sweetest. He was a character in a movie set in New York City in the 1970s, the guy who shows up and gets you out of trouble with no questions asked, who won’t accept anything in return for the favor of saving your life.
I romanticize my friend, but he was a romantic guy. How else do you start a magazine and then a press from scratch? I no longer have the first numbers of New York Tyrant, victims of my move out of town and back, but I remember thinking it was something that wasn’t great yet but could one day be. One day came up with Tyrant Books, which he launched in 2010 (I think). Gian has published at least four of the most important American books (important because beautiful and unlike anything else) of the past decade: Preparation for the next life, by Atticus Lish; Live Blog, by Megan Boyle; Essays and fictions, by Brad Phillips; and Gary Lutz’s Complete. He helped direct Nico Walker’s novel Cherry, written in prison, To be one of them. Then he passed it to Knopf. “Nico will only have one chance as a writer,” Gian told me. “I had to leave him in a big place so he could be big.”
There were lots of little Tyrant books that I love, like Bad sex, by Clancy Martin. The environment (low-rent jet-set), the subject (crack-up), the style (urgent, precarious, vulnerable), were all Gian’s type. Marie Calloway’s flamboyant confessional what have I used in your life – who else could have published this book the right way? Fireworks, by Eugene Marten, a tour de force of hard rock prose. Sarah’s book, by Scott McClanahan – people love this novel like they love old records. Gian was the maestro, the James Laughlin or the Sylvia Beach of a slender and relaxed American aesthetic, something tingling in the wake of punk and linked to the web. It seemed to blend into a movement that will survive him. The last email I got from Gian: “Obviously I’ll give you a hassle when I get them, but I just wanted to start you early so you can take a sip of the next big thing.” “Attached is the manuscript of a novel, Fuccboi, by Sean Thor Conroe. Here is an excerpt from the second page:
“My thing lately has been to stay in 41st place.
Go down the 41st and only the 41st, if possible.
This is how I managed to leave my house.
41st was my block.
Fuck you, fuckers UPenn in your thirties with your dorms and your jackets well insulated, your bike cops and your sense of duty.
Eat all the cocks.
And you kombucha-hungry hippies of the mid-1940s with your communal housing, fermented foods, jars, and sense of purpose.
Damn, you all know 41st Street.
This shit ain’t even straight.
It zigzagged half a block east to Market, a quarter block west to Walnut, and was paved with shit the whole way.
Ran one way one block and the other the next. Was not respected as a street through.
But by walking.
I kept things interesting.
That insane American yelp was what kept Gian interested, got him read when others might have stopped. The other young genius he recently discovered is Honor Levy. His first story is here.
I never asked Gian why he called his magazine and his press Tyrant. At that time, there were a lot of small magazines claiming their greatness. Two magazines were called Gigantic (one of them changed his name to Gigantic sequins), and there was a website called HTMLGiant. There was irony in Tyrant’s name. Gian was an enlightened despot of the little literary kingdom he had built. He was a liberator for many writers and considered editing and publishing a moral duty. How to entrust our literature to international companies? Isn’t that obviously insane?
Gian wouldn’t have said it that way because he really didn’t care about the favor of the publishing world at large. He cared about getting readers for his writers. He published young writers who no one else would look at and older writers who had toured the big houses and were poorly served by them. Sam Lipsyte told me he first met Gian when he came to a workshop he was teaching 20 years ago in a rented room in a building somewhere in Queens. “I don’t even really know how he found me,” Sam said. Gian had come to New York City from West Virginia, and he was good at tracking things. A few years ago he moved to Italy, where he fell in love (a story he told us last month at a dinner party) and set up an artist residency in a villa in Tuscany. Or is it a castle? I never had the opportunity to visit. He had an olive oil business. A bottle with his name on it is above my refrigerator. His grandfather came to West Virginia from Italy at the age of 14 to work in the coal mines, and he had returned there to restore the castelletto. His life was a storybook to the end.
He had lots of plans. My latest posts from him are fictional book covers that he was going to publish under a new nickname, DiTrapano, after folding Tyrant into a split with former business partners. A friend of ours in LA told me that Gian had just sent him a script he had written. I used to put Gian in touch with writers. Lately, I put him in touch with people who knew people who have money: investors, a word that came out of his mouth a little funny. The natural thing was to give him a hug, a feeling that he wrote approx, a tough but eminently cuddly man. He’s published books on the edges of American life, books written in shaky states, and books with words no one else uses.
He had energy and he had integrity. He followed her very rigorous tastes and never compromised. It would never occur to him to do that. When all you have is an ear – and a perfect one – that’s all you need too. The writers he published knew that if he believed in them, they were the real thing. With him on the stage, even though he was an ocean away in a castle, you knew American literature was not dead, was not a soulless imitation of who it was. He gave birth to great books because it was the kind of world he wanted to live in, a world with these books. He had a cynical and ironic view of the world which is the mark of a true idealist. We stayed up late laughing and smoking cigarettes, and I will miss him.