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 doug...@cnpapers.com or 304-348-3017.