Giancarlo DiTrapano, the founding editor and publisher of the influential independent press Tyrant Books, died suddenly on March 30 while visiting New York City from his home in Naples, Italy. He was 47. Tyrant announced the news of his death on Twitter on April 2. The cause of death was not announced.
DiTrapano, an influential figure in independent publishing, began his career in literature in 2006, when he founded the literary journal New York Tyrant Magazine. In 2009, DiTrapano pivoted to book publishing, establishing the independent publisher Tyrant Books. He ran the press singlehandedly from his apartment in New York's Hell's Kitchen neighborhood until 2013, when Tyrant partnered with Fat Possum Records to secure more funding. Under his auspices, New York Tyrant Magazine was reestablished as an online magazine in 2016, with Jordan Castro in the editor's chair.
Those who knew DiTrapano said he had a singular eye for talent and a particular passion for work that pushed against boundaries. That meant, at Tyrant, publishing such works as Atticus Lish's Preparation for the Next Life, which won the 2015 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction and was a PW Picks selection in 2014; The Complete Gary Lutz by Gary Lutz, which received a starred review in PW; and The Sarah Book by Scott McClanahan, which the New York Times called, in its review, "not a book you savor," but "one you inhale."
DiTrapano had his critics, but that was never a problem. "Tyrant stuff isn’t for everyone, but nothing should be for everyone," he once said. "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."
McClanahan has his own take on the matter: "In the years to come, it will be acknowledged," he said, that "Gian helped shape and change the literary culture of the 21st century."
A somewhat self-styled anti-establishment figure, the West Virginia–born DiTrapano's influence also extended further into traditional New York publishing than was always public knowledge. The success of Nico Walker, whose novel Cherry was published by Knopf in 2018 and adapted into a film earlier this year, is the perfect example. It was Tyrant that first acquired the novel, in 2013, and DiTrapano who performed the first rounds of edits. He later decided to sell the book to Knopf, he told The Intercept earlier this year, "because A) I was broke and B) since Tyrant is a small press, I was afraid the book would get overlooked."
While best known as an editor and publisher, DiTrapano published his own work in such outlets as the Paris Review, Playboy, and VICE. And his ardor for discovering and helping to develop literary talent extended beyond publishing proper as well, especially into teaching. He taught fiction and editing classes at Catapult, and lectured regularly on writing and literature in both English and Italian.
During his New York Tyrant days, he established an annual fiction award named for his late older brother, Lidano Albert DiTrapano, which included a round-trip plane ticket to Italy and a week at Villa DiTrapano, the family home in Sezze Romano. At that same villa, DiTrapano and his friend Chelsea Hodson, the author of the essay collection Tonight I'm Someone Else, ran Mors Tua Vita Mea, a semi-annual, week-long writing workshop, starting in 2017. (Its name, translated from the Latin, means "your death, my life.")
DiTrapano is survived by his husband, Giuseppe Avallone; his mother, Martha; and his siblings. The family requests that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made in DiTrapano's honor to Mountain State Spotlight, a civic journalism project for and by West Virginians. A virtual service will be held at 1:50 p.m. ET on Tuesday, April 6.