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Giancarlo DiTrapano's bottom line

What should book publishing look like in 2014? The Tyrant Books founder kicks off State of Literature week with his radical take

Giancarlo diTrapano
Giancarlo diTrapano Photography by Kathy Lo

As part of our new summer US project States of Independence we've invited our favourite 30 American curators, magazines, creatives and institutions to takeover Dazed for a day. 

Kicking off State of Literature week is New York's Tyrant Books – the publishing house founded by Giancarlo DiTrapano that's behind some of the most exciting and controversial releases of recent times. DiTrapano lays down his perspective on the future of publishing, Megan Boyle and Atticus Lish share exclusive extracts, and – as if that wasn't enough music to your ears – Blake Butler has created a playlist to help you stop thinking altogether.

You’d be forgiven for thinking there was no real “editorial line” to the books published by Giancarlo DiTrapano’s Tyrant publishing house. You’d even be something like half right. But, also, you’d be very wrong. The line is actually pretty clear: Tyrant publishes Good Fucking Books. That’s it. Style and subject matter are secondary. It’s like the man says, “When someone’s got the good drugs, I’m a fan of it.” And that makes a hell of a lot of sense, if you think about it.

Tyrant Books, then – through which, among others, DiTrapano published last summer’s major literary talking point, Marie Calloway’s what purpose did i serve in your life? – is something like the natural evolution of the work he started doing with his magazine: a move from hulking literary gorilla, picking and choosing awesome foliage, to a straight-up publishing chimp that knows what it likes and knows how to get it. While The Tyrant, he says, was “like putting together a mixtape”, and – as a million bedroom producers worldwide nodding their heads in understanding, fingers poised over an 808, will tell you – when you get really into making mixtapes, eventually you want to take it a step further and put out that killer record by a single artist.

So far he’s served up noise rock via Ken Baumann, punk rock via Calloway and, in a few months, is about to release what sounds something like a million-instrument post-rock album via Atticus Lish. If that all sounds pretty disparate – guess what? – there’s a grand unifier: they’re all really fucking good. 

Giancarlo DiTrapano
Giancarlo DiTrapano Photography by Kathy Lo

What attracted you specifically to the work of the author’s you’ve put out so far?

Giancarlo DiTrapano: That’s a tough question. Why do I like what I like? Why do I like pizza? Ken Baumann’s book I liked just because I’d never seen anything like it – it’s just wholly mental and insane. I couldn’t trace the roots of it; it was very shocking to me. It confused me, it confounded me – I don’t even know what’s going on in that book – but I like that, you know? I don’t always want to be spoon-fed. Scott [McClanahan]’s a different story: the first time I heard of him I’d hit play on a YouTube thing of a reading of his and I walked away from my desk and I heard his voice – he grew like up an hour away from where I grew up, in west Virginia – and it was just instantly like I was taken to my childhood. I investigated it, I emailed him – I was a fan of the books he had out at the time. I wanted to publish something of his, and Hill William, you know, it’s just … it’s beautiful man, it’s unpretentious. It’s very human. And with his and with Marie’s book, I guess, it seemed it would make their lives a little more difficult to live. When someone makes that sacrifice, when they voluntarily step in to the uncomfortable situation where that book’s going to affect their lives – there’s definitely something in that.

There’s what definitely seems like a real kind of honesty in those books, but any kind of “truth” is always going to be mediated (even through just being a book) – do you think it’s even possible to get any real kind of honesty in a book?

Giancarlo DiTrapano: A purely honest book? I don’t know if that is completely possible – except for, maybe, a book that I’m publishing in the near future, by Megan Boyle. She wrote this live blog – but it’s not there anymore. Knausgaard told his life story, going back to childhood, and as soon as it’s a memoir like that there’s chances for error – for misremembering. But Megan was just writing down every single thing as she was doing it. That seems like the most unfiltered thing I’ve ever read.

The books that you publish are books that a lot of other publishers, the major publishers at least, wouldn’t give the same time of day to. Do you think there’s a sort of arrogance in mainstream publishing, an idea that they ‘know what’s best’?

Giancarlo DiTrapano: Yeah. I do think that. In a way they’re right for what they consider to be the best, but I think the real stuff happens in independent literature. There’s more risks taken; we’re not isolated from the world in the same way that they are. When you get down to independent publishing level it’s more idiosyncratic. I can publish anything, and I’m not going to get in trouble. Okay, I might lose my ass, I might lose money, but I don’t have to answer to anyone and there’s a freedom to that – and through that freedom great writing can be published.

It feels like a good time for independent publishers: new houses are popping up all over the place. Do you think there’s a saturation point at which they need to…stop?

Giancarlo DiTrapano: Of course. But that’s a good point to be at. Because when there’s so much of it and it’s just fucking saturated then the chances are higher that there’s going to be good stuff in there. The more the merrier, man. Sure, you have to filter through a lot of bullshit but there’s going to be something good in there. I don’t know, maybe that’s a little too much hopeful thinking.  

“Okay, I might lose my ass, I might lose money, but I don’t have to answer to anyone and there’s a freedom to that – and through that freedom great writing can be published.” – Giancarlo DiTrapano

There’s Tyrant in New York and Civil Coping Mechanisms elsewhere: in terms of the work published by independent presses in the US, do you think there’s a thrust in a certain direction at all – towards a certain kind of writing?

Giancarlo DiTrapano: The internet has definitely fucking changed things in a huge way. It’s affected writing. I think about this a lot. Looking at Twitter, how fascinating it is – can you imagine if Hemingway could open up his little phone and see everybody fucking around? I feel like I go to my phone and it’s where the closest thoughts are that aren’t mine, you know? I feel like they occupy my mind more than I do a lot of the time. I think writing, maybe as a result of all that, is more confessional.

In some circles “confessional” seems to be kind of a dirty word, like somehow confessional writing is easier than straight-up fiction-writing. 

Giancarlo DiTrapano: It’s still got to be good writing. Someone can really write about anything they want but if it’s rendered in a certain way that appeals to me it’s fine – I don’t care what it’s about – a great writer can make anything interesting. This Atticus Lish book – Preparation for the Next Life – that’s coming out in November. It’s so not a part of what else we’ve been talking about. He’s rarely online, he’s not really in the “scene” and he’s written the most beautiful fucking novel. It’s like he’s coming from completely outside with this book. There’s always going to be what’s popular and scene-y and then there’s people who come from the outside with something that is timeless.

Tell us more about it?

Giancarlo DiTrapano: Atticus’s book, as cheesy as it sounds, made me a better person. I’m not taking one position or another – whether a book should have morals or anything – but Atticus has so much goodness inside of him it’s unbearable. I haven’t read anything like this book. It’s such a beautiful story – a love story – and it’s a new look at New York from the margins. The politics and everything are just so perfect for right now.

PREP_COVER_Atticus Lish
Tyrant Books

Where would you like to see writing go from here?

Giancarlo DiTrapano: I would like to see it change. I would like to see it turn into something completely different and new. To flourish and be something completely unknown, something we’ve never seen before. The biggest effect on todays writing, on young writers, is the internet – what else is going to happen that’s going to have an effect on us like that? Something like environmental disaster, some kind of war.

The internet is the only Truly Big Thing that has happened in the life of a lot of people.

Giancarlo DiTrapano: It’s so fucking huge – it’s almost overwhelming, like we’re too far inside to even think about not being there anymore. I was in high school, I guess, when it came out and I can’t remember what I did with my time. What did I fucking do all day?

Back when people had to pay for porn.

Giancarlo DiTrapano: Yeah, you had to pay for porn – fucking ridiculous. There’s still fools that do pay for porn I guess. I’m just kidding: pornography actors and actresses, they’ve got to get paid.

So Megan Boyle, Atticus Lish – there’s something coming up from Blake Butler, too?

Giancarlo DiTrapano: Blake Butler, man. His new book, 300,000,000 is so beautiful and fucking twisted. It’s like if Charles Manson co-wrote Hogg by Samuel Delany or something. The shit he writes about is so gory and disgusting and almost illegal-seeming. But the language he renders it in is so fucking gorgeous. I told him afterwards, “I’m officially scared of you now. I will never sleep in the same house or even town as you again”.

Apart from Tyrant what are the main publishing houses in the US we should be paying attention to? 

Giancarlo DiTrapano: Sorry House. Spencer [Madsen]’s this fucking little genius. Expect very big things to come from him. They’ve only put out, what, two or three books I guess, but there’s gonna be a lot more, I know. I love what Tao’s doing, with Muumuu House, he’s always got a great eye for stuff. Civil Coping Mechanisms – he seems to be swiping everyone up. I’m not as hard of a worker as he is. I like my free time. I’m lazy, man. I like to do some stuff, I work on it hard when I do it, but I do like to not work as well. Let’s say Sator Press, Sorry House and CCM.

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