Giancarlo DiTrapano

The New York publishing tyrant on literary cliques and selfie culture

Arts+Culture Q+A
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Taken from the January issue of Dazed & Confused:

Giancarlo DiTrapano’s imprint Tyrant Books and magazine New York Tyrant have been instrumental in promoting such celebrated writers as Sheila Heti, Michael Kimball and Jonathan Ames, as well as launching the lesser-known likes of Marie Calloway and Ken Bauman. Raised in Charleston, West Virginia, DiTrapano founded Tyrant after interning at a big New York publishing house and becoming frustrated by the dinosaur-like pace. The 39-year-old has been known to hand interviewers cocaine platters on visits to his studio in Hell’s Kitchen, but our interview was carried out remotely. Still, shits and giggles were had as we discussed his imprint’s flippant knack of nailing and tearing apart selfie culture.

Dazed Digital: Why did you decide to start Tyrant? 

Giancarlo DiTrapano: I was interning and saw how long it would take me to climb the NY publishing ladder. I had a little money though, so I started the lit mag arm of Tyrant. The name came to me when I was in Italy. I was walking alone drunk in the countryside and it started hailing, so I took shelter in a barn and fell asleep. I dreamt of ‘NEW YORK TYRANT’ in exploding lights like Dirk Diggler did in Boogie Nights.

“I don’t feel right telling people what they should and shouldn’t read. There’s so much to read, so many fucking books, it’s dizzying to think about”

DD: Presumably some kind of mission statement came to you as well?

Giancarlo DiTrapano: That I have none. I publish writing that strikes me and then hope that it strikes others. There’s nothing I won’t publish, no restraints or anything. Well, I guess it has to be in English. That’s the one guideline.

DD: You recently put out Ken Baumann’s Solip, which is totally preoccupied with the self and the minutiae of human relationships. Are these hallmarks of a Tyrant author?

Giancarlo DiTrapano: I honestly don’t care if a book is so preoccupied with the self that it’s 500 pages about a writer’s hangnail. As long as it’s told in a certain way, then I will be a sucker for it. It’s always the how and never the what. Always how. Never what. I don’t see anything wrong with something that is self-involved. Whatever ‘self’ it is, it’s a human self that others will relate to, since they are also selves. Solip is probably one of the most difficult and impenetrable books I’ve published. I call it Tyrant Books’ noise-rock album. Never seen anything like it, and probably never will again. I’m proud to have something like that in my catalogue. 

DD: How do you feel about alt lit?

Giancarlo DiTrapano: I don’t feel associated with the alt lit scene. It was only after I published Marie Calloway that people grouped me with them. The books I published before Marie’s aren’t considered alt lit at all. I do love a lot of writers that people consider alt lit, and I am friends with them, but grouping individuals into a ‘school’ has always felt insulting to me. 

DD: So what should we be reading outside of the commercial spectrum, if not alt lit?

Giancarlo DiTrapano: Well, after you finish the entire Tyrant catalogue, you should read the books that your friends love. Or read what’s compelling to you. I grew up reading copies of my sisters’ Mary Higgins Clark and Lawrence Sanders books and at the time I loved that shit. I don’t feel right telling people what they should and shouldn’t read. There’s so much to read, so many fucking books, it’s dizzying to think about.

Giancarlo DiTrapano
Giancarlo DiTrapano Photography by Kathy Lo

DD: How do you feel about the constant comparison with legendary literary editor Gordon Lish – people branding you ‘the new Lish’?

Giancarlo DiTrapano: It’s really nothing like that at all. Lish has answered the age-old question, ‘Can writing be taught?’, and the answer is yes. The long list of excellent writers who studied under him is undeniable, but the relationship between us has been misrepresented, I feel. Lish gave me advice when starting Tyrant, some recommendations on writers to pursue, and he has been supportive of most of what I’ve done since. I consider him a friend. I was recently profiled in a magazine and I mentioned to the interviewer that Lish occasionally calls me ‘darling’ on the phone and that I thought it was kind of funny and friendly. Then Salon reposted it with the headline ‘Gordon Lish calls me “darling”’ and I come across as a flunky, bragging about being acquaintances with someone. I’ve spoken to Gordon maybe three times in the past year, and he calls lots of people ‘darling’. 

DD: What would you say to those who accuse Lish ‘disciples’ of being more cliquey and impenetrable than even the establishment?

Giancarlo DiTrapano: I definitely wouldn’t call myself part of a clique. I wouldn’t even call the students of Lish a clique. It’s not like they all hang out together or anything. The serious ones are at home writing, not clique-ing around, you know? To be honest, if I ever had anyone from the older generation who I feel close to and admire, it would be Edmund White. I’m pretty sure I was in love with him for a couple of weeks at one point a few summers ago. He has always been so supportive, and after a few hours of conversation with him, I feel like I’ve just left the best therapy session ever – though I’ve never been to proper therapy, I’m just assuming that’s what it’s like. Whenever I publish something I’ve written, I immediately and embarrassingly send it to him. Like sending my mom my report card. For some reason, I seek validation from Edmund. He’s like the gay father I never had, as opposed to the straight father I do have. That could be another reason that I feel closer to Edmund: we share the love of cock.

“Privately, I think everyone is a big old perv”

DD: How did you meet?

Giancarlo DiTrapano: It was maybe four years ago. I had just finished reading White’s autobiographical My Lives, and was standing outside of some literary event having a cigarette when I realised he was standing a few feet away. My Lives has some very personal and explicit content, and I felt like I had just been caught going through his sock drawer or something. I wanted to introduce myself but was too nervous. I eventually emailed him, he invited me over to his home, which he shares with his long-time partner, writer Michael Carroll, and we’ve been friends ever since. His most famous novel, A Boy’s Own Story, is a very important book to me, and to most gay men I know.

Giancarlo DiTrapano
Giancarlo DiTrapano Photography by Kathy Lo

DD: You put out Michael Kimball’s Us, one of the truest accounts of love and lossHow does a writer achieve a work that is both experimental and universally popular?

Giancarlo DiTrapano: Though experimental, it is also a very approachable text, and Kimball has a secret on how to rip your heart open. When a piece of writing is as human as Us, it’s just bound to get its meathooks into readers.

DD: This year’s what purpose did i serve in your life by Marie Calloway had all the prudes quivering in their Campers with its full-frontal take on sexual intimacy. But more than anything it highlighted how repressed and uncomfortable society is in its attitudes towards sex. 

Giancarlo DiTrapano: I don’t think society is as repressed in its attitudes towards sex as it may seem. Publicly, yes. They just are when they have it shown to them in true form, like Marie’s book. Privately, I think everyone is a big old perv. Marie’s book is one of the most unique and honest texts I’ve ever come across. I am honoured to have published it. 

DD: What’s the last thing you read?

Giancarlo DiTrapano: Taipei by Tao Lin. If it doesn’t win a Pulitzer, I will move to Cuba.

DD: Won’t everyone, given current New York rent prices?

Giancarlo DiTrapano: I’ve known a lot of people who’ve had to leave New York City entirely, due to money or to not being able to handle the city. I have never really heard anyone say they had to move out of Manhattan to Brooklyn. Seems to me like the cost of living is pretty much the same in both boroughs, just in Brooklyn you have a better chance of getting a small patch of concrete to call your backyard. I lived in Williamsburg for a month when I moved to New York 11 years ago. But I felt like, ‘Well I guess I can see New York from here...’, so I moved to Hell’s Kitchen and have never left. I have a small-ass studio, but it’s all I need. My boyfriend lives a block away, which is ideal. It’s like having our own wings in a big house. Couples moving into a small apartment together in New York might as well just end things and save on the moving costs. It rarely works out. I don’t think people are cut out for co-habitation in small quarters. 

DD: So we’ve established that you don’t see yourself as the new Lish, but how do you see Tyrant, and what would you like to be remembered for?

Giancarlo DiTrapano: Maybe you should ask Lish how it feels to be ‘the old DiTrapano’? I’m kidding, of course. My plan is to keep publishing books that I love, books that I feel are great and that I think should be read. I’ll try to do that as long as I can.

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