Giancarlo DiTrapano, Defiantly Independent Book Publisher, Dies at 47
Mr. DiTrapano championed avant-garde work and relished taking chances on young, untested authors. His Tyrant Books produced some unexpected hits.,
Giancarlo DiTrapano, a defiantly independent publisher whose Tyrant Books, long run out of his cramped apartment in Hell’s Kitchen, issued volumes that big publishing houses wouldn’t touch and took chances on untested young writers, died on March 30 at a hotel in Manhattan. He was 47.
His sister Lia DiTrapano Fairless confirmed the death but did not specify the cause.
Mr. DiTrapano occupied a roguish space in the American literary landscape. In an industry where book proposals are analyzed for their market promise on spreadsheets, he published books based on his bohemian whims, championing avant-garde work that explored drug addiction, explicit sexuality and memoir in the internet age. He nurtured writers who were raised online and who felt like outcasts in the legacy publishing world.
As his imprint’s name suggested, Mr. DiTrapano was tyrannical: He published exactly what he wanted to.
“Tyrant stuff isn’t for everyone, but nothing should be for everyone,” Mr. DiTrapano said in an interview with Entropy magazine in 2015. “Or at least nothing that’s worth anything. You know what’s for everyone? Water. Water is for everyone. And if you’re publishing something for everyone, well, you’re publishing water.”
Mr. DiTrapano’s small-press titles often achieved enviable critical success, but they just as often had humble beginnings. He found his authors in the confessional crevices of the internet or riffing provocatively in lowercase letters on Tumblr. His book deals could begin with a simple, direct message to a writer on Twitter: “hey. want to get a drink?”
In 2013, Mr. DiTrapano courted controversy (and the publicity that came with it) when he published “what purpose did i serve in your life,” an explicit work written under the pen name Marie Calloway that documented the sexual explorations of a woman in her early 20s. Ms. Calloway, whose blog already had a following, recounted, among other things, her affair with a 40-year-old New York writer, which started after she wrote him: “hello I will go to Brooklyn may 26 — june 1 I would love to sleep w/ you.”
The next year, Mr. DiTrapano published the first novel by Atticus Lish, “Preparation for the Next Life,” a love story about an Iraq war veteran and a Chinese Muslim immigrant set in Queens. Mr. Lish, a Harvard dropout who once taught English in China, had labored on the novel for years. After reading the manuscript, Mr. DiTrapano became convinced he’d discovered a bold new literary voice, so he ordered his largest print run yet: 3,500 paperback copies.
Reviewing the book in The New York Times, Dwight Garner proclaimed it “perhaps the finest and most unsentimental love story of the new decade,” and it became the talk of the literary world. Mr. DiTrapano scrambled to print thousands more copies. Mr. Lish was recognized with a PEN/Faulkner Award.
In 2016 Mr. DiTrapano edited “Cherry,” an autobiographical novel by Nico Walker, which was later adapted into a movie starring Tom Holland, released this year. “Cherry” tells the story of a traumatized Iraq combat medic who develops a heroin addiction and starts robbing banks after his return to civilian life. Mr. Walker worked with Mr. DiTrapano while in prison, communicating via email on a computer that cost a nickel a minute to use. Sensing that the project might soar with the resources of a bigger house, Mr. DiTrapano sold the rights to Knopf, which published “Cherry” in 2018.
“Gian wanted people who had something to say, and he was good at finding those people,” Mr. Walker said in a phone interview. “He was interested in the writer beyond the book. He wanted writers with a story. Who had perspective. And he gravitated to outsiders.”
In 2018, Mr. DiTrapano published Megan Boyle’s “Liveblog,” a 707-page experimental memoir based on the author’s intent to document “everything i do, think, feel, and say.” In 2017 he released Darcie Wilder’s “literally show me a healthy person,” a Twitter-influenced short novel.
“The biggest effect on today’s writing, on young writers, is the internet — what else is going to happen that’s going to have an effect on us like that?” he said in an interview with the British magazine Dazed in 2014. “We’re too far inside to even think about not being there anymore.”
Mr. DiTrapano, a scruffy bon vivant, caroused with the myth of rowdy literary New York.
When he was courting a writer he liked, he might take the person out for drinks at his favorite haunt, KGB Bar in the East Village. Late and blurry nights with his authors at Tyrant headquarters — the operation was based in his book-cluttered studio apartment on West 46th Street before he moved to Rome in 2016 — constituted his office hours.
Michael Bible wrote in the Los Angeles Review of Books that when he visited Tyrant in 2013, Mr. DiTrapano greeted him with a silver tray of Xanax, whiskey and cocaine. The next morning, Mr. Bible said, he texted Mr. DiTrapano: “How did I get home last night?” He then discovered a fresh unopened pack of his favorite brand of cigarette in his pants pocket.
Mr. DiTrapano had tucked it there before putting him in a taxi home.
Giancarlo Veazey DiTrapano was born on Jan. 30, 1974, in Charleston, W.Va. His father, Rudolph, was a prominent plaintiff’s lawyer who also represented The Charleston Gazette. His mother, Martha (Veazey) DiTrapano, was a homemaker. His grandfather Luigi DiTrapano emigrated to the area from Italy in the early 1900s and worked in a coal mine before returning to buy a 17th-century property in Sezze Romano, near Rome, where Giancarlo spent summers as a boy.
In middle school, Giancarlo gave a class presentation about Charles Manson’s past as a frustrated artist. He also began reading the works of William Faulkner and Joseph Conrad. He graduated with a degree in philosophy from Loyola University New Orleans in 1998.
Mr. DiTrapano arrived in New York in 2001, landing an internship at Farrar, Straus & Giroux, and he later attended the fabled writing workshops of the editor Gordon Lish, the father of the future Tyrant author Atticus Lish.
Mr. DiTrapano started a literary magazine, New York Tyrant, in 2006, publishing writers like Tao Lin and Sam Lipsyte. He founded Tyrant Books three years later.
In 2015, he met Giuseppe Avallone, a set and costume designer from Salerno, Italy. They married a year later. Mr. DiTrapano soon started running a writers’ workshop at the family home in Sezze Romano.
In addition to his husband and his sister Lia, Mr. DiTrapano is survived by his mother; another sister, Luisa DiTrapano; and a brother, Dante.
Last month, Mr. DiTrapano arrived in New York and checked into the Bowery Hotel for a week of meetings. He was working on the debut books of a group of young writers that he believed marked the arrival of the first wave of Gen Z literary voices.
He had dinner with one of them, Honor Levy, 23, at the Odeon in TriBeCa. They were supposed to reunite this week in Italy to start editing her short-story collection.
“I’ve been a huge fan of Gian and Tyrant Books since I was 13,” Ms. Levy said in a phone interview. “I was so nervous the first time he D.M.’d me. I was star-struck.”
“I never wanted any eyes besides his,” she continued. “There’s no publisher I wanted to work with more. He believed in me.”