Checking in on the 'bad boy of publishing' from W.Va.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- At age 39, Giancarlo DiTrapano, editor of Tyrant Magazine and Tyrant Books in New York, a literary magazine and small press, occupies that rare occupation on the publishing scene -- "bad boy of the publishing world," as the Los Angeles Review of Books recently christened the West Virginia native.
Some of his books and magazines are not for the faint of heart, much less a family newspaper, in their unblinkered, uncensored explorations of sex, bad behavior, craziness and more craziness.
At the same time there are the moments of literary epiphany as -- to quote the LARB again: "New York Tyrant's roll call of published authors reads like a who's who of the 21st century's best writers: Brian Evenson, Noy Holland, Michael Kimball, Gary Lutz, Rachel B. Glaser, Scott McClanahan, Sam Lipsyte, Padgett Powell, Breece D'J Pancake and Gordon Lish, to name a few. Tyrant consistently publishes writers that large houses refuse to touch -- and it's growing."
The Gazette conducted an email interview about what motivates the work of this Charleston native, the son of Rudy and Martha DiTrapano.
Q: Legandary book editor Gordon Lish describes New York Tyrant as your book publishing "adventure." What was the initial inspiration for the magazine/press? What need was unfulfilled that you wanted to see filled?
DITRAPANO: I'd moved to NYC right after 9/11 and was interning at a big publishing house. I wanted to work in the field somehow but didn't feel like waiting for enough promotions to be able to publish what I wanted to publish, so I started the New York Tyrant literary magazine (the book arm, Tyrant Books, launched a few years after). A couple of other people were involved in the beginning, and we wanted it to be fun. And it was. For a little while. But then problems arose (as they always do).
Regarding fulfilling the unfulfilled: Yeah, I think there was a need at the time for something new. Something a little less "nice" and less square than the lit mags at the time.
Q: I imagine you do not have a mission statement. But if you did, what would be some of the words that might describe what you choose to publish and showcase? Certainly 'provocation,' since so much of the work is certainly provocative.
DITRAPANO: Experimental, truthful (not to be confused with honest), risky, hard earned, uncomfortable, and on occasion, if a writer really gets lucky, sublimity.
Q: A lot of dark and stumbling human behavior is on display in the books and magazine. What is the lure, the aim, of diving deep into the deeper end of the human behavior pool?
DITRAPANO: Because that's where you find what is true. People are messes, every one of us. Most of the time, I don't look around me and see a happy world. I see a lot of people, myself included, pretending that everything is OK. Which is fine, because that's what we're supposed to do. But there's a lot more going on inside of our psyches and in our lives. Also, I just tend to be attracted to sadness and madness and death when it comes to books. A happy ending is a nice escape, but are we sure there's ever been one? People write happy endings because they want them to exist.
Q: Describe growing up in Charleston, W.Va., what it meant to who you are and how it, if at all, influences your choices as an editor and creative person?
DITRAPANO: I grew up right on the Kanawha River, with the state Capitol looming right on the other side. I had great friends and we had a great time, though I have lost real (not Facebook) touch with most of them. People grow apart, I guess. When in town I call my friend Jon Ball, but that's about it ... And if I happen to go downtown to the bars or to the Glass, I hardly recognize anyone anymore.
I was precocious to the nature of sorrow from a very young age. My middle brother, Lidano, died when I was nine. I see family as an organic thing, and when one of the pieces is lost, the family itself becomes lost. At least for a while. Eventually, it comes back together, after time (the only true balm). More than anything, I felt so bad for my parents. I also lost my best friend, Vernon Sadorra, in a car accident when we were sixteen. Maybe seeing death and learning about loss at an early age has something to do with what I choose to publish. Or maybe I'm just sick in the head.
Q: Talk about the phenomenon of Marie Calloway and your publication of her controversial book "what purpose did i serve in your life," about her sexual adventures and other musings about men and more. Who approached whom? Publishers Weekly describes her as: "[Calloway is either] a sex kitten, a feminist using her own body as a laboratory; or she's a vapid Internet-age narcissist." Why publish her often deeply uncomfortable misadventures and flat musings about them? Can we resort to the French here? Is there a little of "Épater la bourgeoisie" -- trying to shock the bourgeoisie -- going on with publishing her?
DITRAPANO: I was already a fan of Ms. Calloway from what I had read of her writing online, and we met once in person briefly and I got a really intense and good vibe from her. Then one day she posted on Facebook that she had a book. I asked to see it and the deal was done that afternoon.
I don't find her musings flat, and I think being made uncomfortable is a good thing if it makes you think about exactly why you were made uncomfortable. Ms. Calloway has a very intense presence, on the page and in person. And her mind is like a steel trap. I am usually very bored when most authors write about sex, but Calloway has done something unique.
And of course, the book isn't just about sex. There is so much else going on in there. With all due respect, you're wrong about the Épater la bourgeoisie. I published her because I believe in her as a person and as a writer. There is a great expression of tenderness and sensibility in her writing that I rarely see.
Q: How in the world did you navigate from Charleston to being the "bad boy of the publishing world," to quote the Los Angeles Review of Books? Was this a planned journey or more happenstance?
DITRAPANO: I have wonderful parents who showed me the world as a child, exposed me to culture, and gave me unconditional love. My dad used to give me vocabulary quizzes each Sunday when I was growing up, so that may have caused the draw to literature. But my parents have always been supportive and allowed me the freedom (and means) to pursue what I wanted. That's the first part.
As to how I became "the bad boy of the publishing world," being raised in West Virginia had everything to do with it. West Virginians are kind of taught to raise hell, you know? As long as no one was getting badly hurt, cutting loose always felt like a sign of vitality to me. Wild, wonderful West Virginia instills its wildness in its citizens. It is a part of myself that I am proud of and that I cherish deeply.
Perhaps the people up here in the north are a little more reserved, and since most writers and people in the publishing world are kind of nerdy, being the "bad boy" maybe doesn't require all that much badness.
Q: What space does West Virginia occupy in your mental/spiritual geography? You publish some of her writers, too.
DITRAPANO: West Virginia is where I grew up, but I never really saw myself staying. It's a huge part of my past and my family still lives there, so I will always love my hometown, but I don't have any strong connection with the place itself. I tend not to get attached to geography, but to people.
When I started dating men in my 20s, I wondered if I would've ever had the courage to do that in my hometown. I'm still not sure if I would have or not. I grew up hearing the word "faggot" get tossed around as often as the word "Mountaineers" (even if half of the time it was coming from my own mouth). Where I live now, I can kiss my boyfriend goodbye on the street corner without worrying about the repercussions. I don't feel free to do that in most other places outside of the city, and that includes my hometown. Now, I'm not saying that all West Virginians hate gays or anything like that. It's just that a lot of people, people all over the country, still aren't used to seeing it.
But without exception, every time I hear the line from "Country Roads" about her voice in the morning, I get covered with goose bumps. Whether I live there anymore or not, I'll always be a West Virginian.
And yes, I am publishing the best writer to come out of West Virginia since Breece D'J Pancake. Scott McClanahan's book, "Hill William," is coming out very soon and is going to put West Virginia on the literary map in ways that it never has been. There will be statues of McClanahan someday. You watch.
Reach Douglas Imbrogno at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-3017.