Giancarlo DiTrapano, writer, indie publisher and founder of Tyrant Books, died Tuesday at age 47.
Friends and many writers, along with Fat Possum Records, the business partner for Tyrant, revealed DiTrapano’s death Friday afternoon. No cause has been disclosed, but a post on Twitter by a friend that has since been deleted called the death “stupid and preventable.” He died in New York, where he split his time between his ancestral home of Italy, but private funeral services are being held in West Virginia, where he was raised.
Writer and poet Rachel Rabbit White remembered DiTrapano on Twitter as “so fun, warm, generous.”
“He dedicated his life to literature — lifting an entire generation of writers shunned by traditional publishing,” she added. “He was fearless in the way he pushed for writers on the fringes and now he’s gone. The hole this leaves is terrifying, tragic.”
Writer Kaitlin Phillips described DiTrapano as someone with “taste” who was also fun when “everyone on the lit scene is so boring.”
“They can’t party and even worse they lie about what books are good,” she noted.
Brad Phillips, an artist and writer, took to Instagram to express some grief, saying DiTrapano was his best friend and “platonic soulmate.” He admitted that taking to social media with the death of his friend “feels tacky” but reasoned, “Gian lived online.”
“I wouldn’t be half the writer I am without Giancarlo, and his loss has set back contemporary literature for at least two decades,” Phillips wrote. “Gian was the most loving, supportive, kind, generous, insightful, brave and care-taking man I’ve ever known. His brain was singular, like pink lightning.”
A representative of Fat Possum, an indie record label based in Mississippi that joined up with Tyrant in 2013, could not be reached for comment on the future of the publisher. The Tyrant website continues to publish.
DiTrapano in 2006 started Tyrant as a magazine and literary journal, but by 2009 it was on hiatus and then morphed into an independent publisher of books. Over the years Tyrant has published work from dozens of authors, including Sam Lipsyte, Rachel B. Glaser, Marie Calloway and Atticus Lish, the son of renowned Knopf editor Gordon Lish. In a 2013 profile of DiTrapano in The Los Angeles Review of Books, he was described as being considered the “heir apparent” of the elder Lish.
In the same interview (in which the interviewer Michel Bible wrote that he was offered cocaine on a silver platter and woke up the next day with a fresh pack of cigarettes in his pocket that he didn’t purchase), DiTrapano said he was always a lover of books and a reader, but when he came to New York City after college to get into publishing with an internship at prestigious Farrar, Straus & Giroux, he found it slow.
“It would have taken forever for me to do anything I wanted to do,” he said at the time. “But I had a little money, so I started a press.”
As Phillips noted, DiTrapano used the internet and social media early in order to find and promote writers and their published work, as well as Tyrant on the whole, something large publishers were much slower to do and embrace. He was the editor, publisher and publicity man for Tyrant. And he was also a writer, including for publications like The Paris Review and Vice.
It led to mainstream publications taking notice, with Tyrant books ending up being reviewed in The Washington Post and Publisher’s Weekly and the magazine was revived online in 2016. In 2019, a review in The Washington Post said Tyrant had “stepped to the forefront of progressive literature” as a publisher of “exacting left-of-center fiction.”
DiTrapano is survived by his husband, Giuseppe Avallone, his parents and several siblings. In an obituary posted to the funeral home in West Virginia where private services will be held, the family said the service will be livestreamed for those who wish to view on Tuesday, starting at 1:50 p.m. Eastern Time. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the journalism project Mountain State Spotlight.