“He Trusted the Author”: Remembering Giancarlo DiTrapano - Believer Magazine
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“He Trusted the Author”: Remembering Giancarlo DiTrapano

by James Yeh
April 6th, 2021
Hell’s Kitchen, July 2012 (photo by Brooks Sterritt)

Independent publishing is, I don’t have to tell you, kind of a shit place: first you lose your time, and then you waste your money, to paraphrase artist and ex-publisher Paul Chan, who would know. But it’s people like Gian—otherwise known as Giancarlo DiTrapano, the intrepid editor, publisher, writer, rabble-rouser, and West Virginian who founded New York Tyrant magazine and its imprint Tyrant Books and succumbed prematurely, monstrously last week at forty-seven—who remind us why it matters. A lot of people online have mentioned how cool he was (which he was, effortlessly, real-deal) and how generous (which he also was) and charitable (that too)—all rarities, of course, in this life and this industry, especially.

As a cofounding editor of a—is the word rival?—literary outfit, Gigantic, we didn’t always align on aesthetics or approach, but we certainly shared more than most, particularly, our mutual interest in language and ever-belief in literature’s unimpeachable value, despite all the spent time and blown money, and I could never knock the full-throated way Gian stumped for his writers, and the integrity with which he carried himself and brought to all his projects. Tyrant Books’ ultimate success, without bowing to orthodox industry norms, was a joy to behold.

Like the best editors, Gian was someone who brought a lot of interesting people and ideas together and then spun the parts into something greater—more forceful, bold, memorable. But he was so much more than that, too: a mensch and a sweetheart and a tireless advocate for so many outside the traditional walks of literary life. He was unabashedly not to the manner born, but through sheer will claimed a place in contemporary American letters for himself and others he felt compelled to usher in, the unloved, underdogs and outsiders. Gian wasn’t a gatekeeper so much as a gatecrasher, the benevolent trickster who sneaks past security, then slices a hole in the fence to let a bunch of others in, because why shouldn’t we be so generous? He was the grand Dionysian older sibling who hipped teenage you to the best books, art, bands—then got you drunk when your parents were out of town. Maybe he checked in on you the next morning, maybe you checked in on him. Either way, you felt lucky, affectionated upon. 

Gian was, it must be said, a world-class shit-stirrer. Our first emails, from 2010, had to do with the storied editor and lecturer Gordon Lish, arguably a spiritual forebear to Gian, whose marathon writing classes our friend found “interesting as hell,” gushing: “Never witnessed another human being so passionate about writing and who can talk about it for eight hours and be entertaining. It’s a spectacle.”

Other parts of the class, though, Gian liked less. “A lot of the lecture is about how to live (kinda),” he griped. “For example, he has this thing where he says, ‘If a car pulls up and the door opens and someone tells you to get in, then get in.’

“And I’m like, ‘No shit.’ I don’t need any more of that kind of advice.”

That was Gian: He got in. Nobody had to teach him that; he knew.

Here is another email he sent me, also from 2010, which I will include in its entirety:

Hey Yeh,

What’s up? You heard from those Vice faggots yet? I just finished Richard Yates and loved it so I’m doing a small post for them online. I made it clear to Thomas that if this were to any way interfere with them publishing your interview (like too much Tao) that they should please not publish my piece. Just wanted to run that by you so you don’t think I’m cock-blocking you when the post comes out. Cool? Anyway, wow, I really liked Richard Yates.

What are your weekend plans?

G

This too seemed to me classic Gian: profane, outré, beyond tender. Moreover, there was also an uncommon respect, a generosity of spirit that guided him—Gian always sided with the little guy; that interview, if accepted, would have paid far more than I’d ever been paid for my writing. And here was Gian, willing to pull his own piece, so he wouldn’t “cock-block” mine. Who else would have been willing to offer that, and to offer it so freely?

Writing these words I find myself thinking of, of all things, Game of Thrones, which Gian must have despised for countless reasons, number-one its mass appeal, which he, like a true Gen X-er, instinctively distrusted. But there’s this one character, played by Pedro Pascal, an irresistible debaucherous stylish prince, lover of beauty, sex, and partying, who you aren’t sure is necessarily noble or even serious. But then, when it’s a matter of life or death, he of all people is the one who steps up. “I will be your champion,” he declares with drama and courage. That was like Gian—for so many of us, Gian was that prince, and that champion. 

Gian also knew how to throw a good party (another rarity in this industry). In this spirit, we asked thirty-three writers, editors, and friends to share their remembrances of him. They include writers he published, Tyrant colleagues, old friends, former students, and fellow travelers in the literary world. Here’s what they had to say. A livestream service, held by Gian’s family, will begin on April 6 at 1:50 PM.

—James Yeh

He Would Give You the Last Fuck off His Back

NADXIELI NIETO: I met Gian sometime in the late ’90s or early 2000s. Hard to remember. Those years were a blur, and frankly, it feels like I’ve always known him. He had that way about him. I loved him immediately. He felt like an essential element. He gave absolutely no fucks and all the fucks in the world. He would give you the last fuck off his back. He would divide that fuck into three fucks and make sure there was enough to feed everyone at the fucking table. In my many lean years in indie publishing, he was always someone I could turn to. When I was hungry and needed extra cash, he would find a publishing odd job for me (proofreading or calling up bookstores for Eugene Marten’s Firework). Undoubtedly, the men of indie lit will remember the loudest; he had a way of making everyone feel special and, well, cooler. But what drew me to him was how much of myself he encouraged me to be with him. He did that for women. He encouraged us to be as big as we could, as big and weird and loud as we wanted. It sounds like a small thing, but it’s not something most men are good at, never mind editors. When he started New York Tyrant, I was running a reading series called PEEL out of a Brooklyn bar with a mutual friend, Ellen Moynihan, and we hosted his first readings. And so began the literary side of our friendship. He published my first prose poems in the third issue of Tyrant, still some of my favorites. I was young and unsure of my voice, newly in an MFA program. I came back with a new version of one of the poems edited within an inch of its life by a professor. Should we use this one? I asked—the “official” one, the MFA-sanctified one. Do you like it? he asked. No, I said, I like the first version. And so we ran that one. A small thing, sure, but that was Gian. He was both extremely opinionated and extremely interested in your opinion (fuck the establishment). He loved and championed writers, especially us weirdos, in a way that was and is exceptional. He was the best person to argue with. A true ballbreaker. As I look back over decades’ worth of emails, the most common feature is our shared affection for scatalogical humor. We called each other fartface, and ugly, and talked about ripping big ones in each other’s faces. He knew I hated to be called Nodge, and so he called me that relentlessly, and I loved it.

A Hero of Feeling

SAM LIPSYTE: I don’t really have anything artful to say about the life or death of this unique man. I’m just very sad. I met him about twenty years ago at a workshop I taught in Queens. I don’t think he came to many of the sessions, and I’m not sure he actually wrote anything, but we hit it off right away, both of us confessing to too much knowledge of certain Steely Dan lyrics. He seemed to me from another planet, a better, kinder, bolder one. It’s fun to romanticize his excesses, but over the years he told me about his struggles, and I saw pain in his eyes. I never knew him well enough to know what really drove him, but the scope of what he accomplished—as a publisher, an editor, as the person who carved out an abundant space in which so much superior writing (and conversation about writing) could flourish—isn’t really even understood yet. Sometimes he seemed like a shambling—if stylish—mess, but he saw and heard everything, at the frequencies that mattered, with phenomenal clarity. He loved language viscerally, the way you would expect somebody who devotes a life to literature would, and so few in that world do. He was a hero of feeling. He was also a very sweet and funny guy, whose glow could obliterate the general shittiness. Once, at a bar, this person, some friend of Gian, got in my face and started hassling me, insulting me, my work. Gian walked over and pulled his friend away. He came back and put an arm around my shoulder, comforted me in my jangled state. Others might have made excuses, or spoken ill of their friend, or tried to spin things. But Gian just smiled. “It’s OK, man,” he said. “He just really doesn’t like you at all.” Something about the way he said this filled me with an inexplicable golden warmth. It was Gian’s warmth, which never shrank from the truth, but wouldn’t surrender to its coldness, either.

Charles Manson, but Nice

NICOLA MAYE GOLDBERG: Gian was like Charles Manson, but nice. I’ve never wanted to impress someone so badly. 

Once, in Sezze, I mentioned part of a poem by Auden that goes: “If equal affection cannot be / let the more loving one be me.” Gian liked that line a lot. On the way to the airport he asked me to recite it again. “That’s me,” he said. “I’m the more loving one.” I found that hard to believe. I still do. 

In “Ars Poetica,” Horace wrote about a man who jumped into Mount Etna to prove he was a god. Horace believed that poets, in particular, have the right to destroy themselves. And Gian was a poet—even if we remember him best as an editor and teacher, he had a poet’s heart. I know I’m not the only one who would have followed Gian into that volcano. 

When I found out Gian was dead, I tried to pray but it felt like chewing cement. Writing something he won’t read feels pointless, but I can’t think of anything else to do. 

Gian, I hope you’re in heaven, ignoring the no-smoking signs. Even if there is no heaven. Even if there is no you. 

The Computer-Cussing, the Galley-Unpacking, the Rufus-Walking

ALEC NIEDENTHAL: I worked for Gian in the summer of 2012—almost typed 2021. I’d show up at his Hell’s Kitchen studio a few days a week, always in the groggy afternoon. What I remember of that time is mostly indoor cigarettes, lunches at Galaxy Diner, and writing copy for books I hadn’t read while Gian cussed at his computer and took Rufus, his bulldog, for walks. What I couldn’t have known at the time was that this press would begin to trickle upward through literary culture, publishing work as diverse as avant-garde sentence sculptors, early autofiction writers who asked painful questions about love and drugs and the self, and even a reincarnation of mid-period Don DeLillo (Atticus Lish) who I believe composed one of the best books of the 2010s. What I couldn’t have known was that the work Gian was doing in that small brick apartment—the computer-cussing, the galley-unpacking, the Rufus-walking—would fundamentally change the calculus of what was possible in American literature. Gian showed us that “weird” work wasn’t just weird. It was the pulsing undercurrent of reality. It still is, maybe more than ever.  

He would love this, and make fun of everyone for being sentimental, while also tearing up a little himself. He was obviously an aesthete and hedonist but also a dedicated friend in a very rare way. I keep thinking of those gestures he would make, the hand turning upside down, cupping the air a little. He would often make this gesture while finding some way to help you out. He would also make fun of me for reminiscing this way, but also probably find it sweet, because he was like the world’s first cynical sweetheart. 

Like Hiring Robert Walser to File Your Income Taxes

EUGENE LIM: We published some of the same writers—in particular, Eugene Marten—so we would bump into each other for a time. More than once we shared a table at AWP or some other similar event. Imagine figuring out AWP logistics with Giancarlo! It was like hiring Robert Walser to file your income taxes—it wasn’t gonna happen, but it was beautiful to see the way it didn’t happen. The first time I met him was at the launch for Eugene Marten’s Waste, so it must’ve been 2008. That night, he was almost hidden and seemed to live in and exude a nicotine fog, chainsmoking and nervous—not the glorious warped thunderous leonine form he would later take on (or, at least, which I hadn’t yet seen). To me, he was always generous and even bashfully polite. Even when telling his wild tales. I love and will cherish the little time I had with him. I asked him once, “How are you doing?” and he said, “Man, you’re asking the wrong person.”

He Took a Chance on My Work When No One Else Would

ANNIE DEWITT: I’ve never been a fan of eulogizing. As with most of us, the older I get the more I live in fear of having to try and say something profound about someone who altered the direction of my life. I remember meeting Gian at a bar around the corner from the bookstore where this photo was taken. White Nights in Split Town City was about to launch. I was nervous and anticipatory. I’d invited G to the PEN party for debut voices. G openly loathed those types of events. He was anti-establishment. Anti-publishing industry insiders. Anti-anything that seemed the norm for norm’s sake. I admired that about him. He showed up this night freshly in love with his soon-to-be husband, Giuseppe, who he’d met in Italy. They’d been in bed for days. G went to this party for me. Because he knew I thought it mattered. I was young and fierce but also fragile in an artistic sense. I wore black lipstick. Working four adjunct teaching jobs at various different schools in the city where I no longer had an apartment, having recently fled upstate. I remember the cab ride back to the Broadway hotel where I was staying, curling up in the back seat of the Taxi, putting my head in G’s lap, watching the city go by. I offered to pay for the cab, but G declined. In many ways that small intimacy was the highlight of my publishing experience. Operating out of Fat Possum Records, a small Southern indie record label, Tyrant had no press team to speak of. I still have the Excel doc with the list of review contacts G sent me. A list which I scoured, furiously mailing advance copies to every name from my old Catskills kitchen with its pink walls and linoleum siding. How could G have known what it felt like to see the tiny print in the New York Times book section a few months later? I drove my 2002 Jetta with the hand-roll windows to the local Catskills CVS and spread the newspaper on the hood of my car in astonishment. At that time, this felt like the most important thing in my world. The first time I went to G’s studio in Midtown West I paced the block twice. A relic of old New York, dark and full of posters and an upright piano, cigarette smoke everywhere. A dimly lit bathroom and a garden patio that felt reserved for the truly lucky few who had some coveted green space amidst the city gridlock. G had very few notes. He trusted the author. Don’t overwrite, he said. We talked about Lish and our fetish for difficult hard-to-please men. We talked about the character of Otto Hauser and how to write sex scenes which felt explicit but unsentimental or sensationalized. We talked about the legend of airplane hijacker D. B. Cooper and how G thought he’d once met him at a pool game. I left that day and felt cared for. We’ve since lost touch over the years. I missed seeing him in Italy when the Italian translation launched. I wondered why he didn’t come to the readings. His absence was felt. I never saw his fabled villa in the hillside with the pool. But I heard stories. Those, I suppose, will have to be enough. What I can say is that Giancarlo DiTrapano was fiercely independent. He demanded a lot of literature. He had little time for BS. He took a chance on my work when no one else would. I have the distinct feeling that it is only now that the “major” houses will reckon with his legacy. Seemingly outspoken in interviews. Brash even. But, the G I knew was a shepherd. Quiet. Slightly shy. The observer with the thin-rimmed black glasses and the happy cheeks in a crowd. He cared about authenticity. The voices he championed felt special. I’m forever grateful and indebted to be among his list. Today, as an agent, I often come across a young author whose work I know G would admire. That’s the torch I’ll carry. It’s his. Never rest, G. I hope you’re stirring up trouble in heaven already.

What a Thing, What a Thing

JORDAN CASTRO: This is Gian’s Gordon Lish impression, and my favorite video of him. 

We sent each other videos, primping our hair

BRAD PHILLIPS: I can never listen to Stevie Nicks again.

I am listening to Stevie Nicks right now.

Giancarlo DiTrapano saved my life. 

Giancarlo and I daily sent each other videos where we primped our hair and made fun of each other, like ten-year-olds.

“You’re the loser.”

“No, you are.”

When I lay on Gian’s naked chest poolside in Sezze, I could feel his heart beating, and laughter percolating in his stomach because Gian was always laughing.

God, what if Gian was editing this. I need to do a good job.

Gian made fun of me, Nicolette, Jordan, Megan, Cristine, and his niece Sofia for doing yoga on his property. A year later he told me how much he was enjoying running. I threatened to tweet that he enjoyed running. He threatened to block me. I threatened to post a screenshot of him threatening to block me for threatening to expose him for enjoying running.

Instead we sent each other videos, primping our hair.

I told him my new book was too long, too complicated. He said shut up loser we’ll print it on onion skin in five-point font. 

Someone more eloquent than me might write about the way Gian’s death, has, for literature, torn it apart, set it back, and dismantled its momentum.

Sometimes Gian accused me of being overly adjectival.

Gian was: brave, brilliant, loving, courageous, free, singular, brave, brilliant, brave, seeing-the-best-in-others’y, brave, romantic, optimistic, generous, hilarious, brave, loyal, brave, loyal, free, and inimitable. 

Gian was my best friend, my platonic soulmate, my shepherd, my heart.

I want to make you proud, Gian. I love you, Gian.

I’ll find you, Gian.

You Want to Write Randy Moss’s Autobiography for Me?

KARL TARO GREENFELD: We were close, I wrote for Tyrant, etc., spent plenty of evenings, as Lorentzen says, “Staying up late, talking shit, and smoking cigarettes” or whatever the euphemism is that he uses. But I actually knew Gio’s brother Dante before I knew Gio. (I think I was the only person who called him Gio. He found it funny.) I was at Sports Illustrated in 2005 and doing a cover story about NFL superstar Randy Moss, who it turns out has tremendous loyalty to Gio’s late father, who got Moss out of jail when he was still in high school. This was back in Rand, West Virginia. Gio’s family is prominent in the area and his father is a kind of kingfish. Anyway, Moss stayed so loyal to the family that he kept Gio’s brother, Dante, as his agent even after Dante ended up ripping off millions from Randy. But that’s not what my story was about. I went down to Florida, hung out with Moss, wrote prolly the only significant piece about Moss that was ever written. But the whole time this agent was a strange dude, odd man, cocaine eyes, all that. But a personality. 

A year or so later, I’m at the Paris Review offices where I find a copy of New York Tyrant, it’s the Death to the Tyrant issue, and like everyone when they first encounter Gio-curated texts, I am simultaneously confused/excited. I send a story to Tyrant. Gio takes it. Maybe my third-ever published short story. It’s about an athlete very much like Randy Moss. I have no idea Gio is Dante’s brother. I don’t know who Gio is. Anyway, we meet to have drinks at KGB (Jody Brown was there) and I ask Gio if he’s related to Randy Moss’s agent and he’s like, yeah, that’s my brother. “You want to write Randy Moss’s autobiography for me?” He had this crackpot idea to become a book publisher and he figured he had the inside track on Randy Moss. I knew ghosting a book like that should pay six figures, and I doubted he had that kind of money. I even doubted he could be a real publisher. He was way too much fun to be a publisher. 

I loved him.  

Where Others Only Saw Risk

MIRA GONZALEZ: Gian dedicated his life to creating a home for weirdos and rejects in the world of literature and publishing. He aggressively pushed young, overlooked writers into important roles in an institution that would have otherwise wholly rejected us. He saw potential in people, where others only saw risk. It feels impossible to overstate Gian’s impact. I fear for the next generation of talented young weirdos, who won’t have Gian by their side to aggressively push their work into the spotlight on their behalf, against the will of traditional gatekeepers. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without Gian, and anyone else who was lucky enough to know him probably feels the same way.

I See You Dogleg

BROOKS STERRITT: As sad as the past few days have been, it’s heartening to see Gian celebrated via stories, photos, and screenshots of correspondence. Some adjectives tend to recur: warm, real, charming, magnetic, visionary. To these I would add: fucking hilarious and radically open. Gian (nearly unbearable to use the past tense) was a sophisticated guy, though so much about him was off the beaten path: his taste, his humor, his vision. He loved gossip but couldn’t tolerate received wisdom—the former, a view behind the scenes, the latter keeping you from seeing the world as it is. A discerning editor, Gian could see the work inside the work the way he saw the good in people. Reading through our text messages from over the years, I’m struck by how many times he wrote, “I see you” or, “I see you dog,” or even “I see you dogleg” (is this a West Virginia thing?). Meeting him for the first time, you could sense that when Gian looked at you he was paying attention. All I can think to do is return the favor. We see you, Gian. We see you, and we love you.

The Worst-Selling Title in the Tyrant Catalogue

DAVID NUTT: I first met Gian in early 2003. We were both students in a fiction workshop Sam Lipsyte was teaching in an educational arts space in Astoria, Queens. Gian was this gloriously rumpled dude with a perilous smoker’s rasp and unkempt hair. How to put this delicately? He seemed highly dubious. Or, maybe, dubiously high? He brought in a wild story that included some awfully raw language that made everyone uncomfortable, but I liked how rowdy it was. He looked pretty rowdy himself. He had that young, marble-mouthed Brando mystique, and it wasn’t some bullshit hipster affectation. He missed the first class or two, showed up a few times, then disappeared. Sam said he wasn’t sure if the guy had even paid for the class, but maybe he was joking. It was one of those “Who was that masked man?” type situations.

Not long afterwards, Gian sent me a random email: “If you ever want to get a drink and talk, let me know. Your shit is tight, poetic, and pure Peppermint Patty sensation. Maybe you can give me some tips…”

I didn’t write him back. I moved out of the city. A couple years after that, he emailed again to say he was starting a lit mag and I should send him some work. He eventually published two of my stories in New York Tyrant magazine, in 2008 and 2011. There were a lot of new names in those issues. As the years went by, many of them went on to have respectable writing careers. I wasn’t one of them. But at least I answered his emails now.

In 2016, I sent Gian the novel I’d been chipping at for seven years. We talked on the phone. “It’s a cool book, but no one will publish it,” he told me. A half-hour later, he said, “Maybe I could publish it. I don’t know. Should I publish it? Why am I being such a pussy?” He said that about eighteen times while casually sipping a beverage in Italy. After an hour, he talked himself into publishing the thing.

Really, I think he just liked the idea of putting out a book by an old workshop compatriot who was still floundering after more than a decade at sea. It flatters no one to say this, but Gian was a collector of misfit toys. Writers with oddly sized limbs and rude tics, unsightly seepages, people who didn’t fit anywhere, least of all with themselves.

When my book came out, it immediately fizzled. It is, I believe, the worst-selling title in the Tyrant catalogue. Gian didn’t care. None of that stuff mattered to him.

Despite his raffish and rowdy persona, which he really seemed to relish, he was an incredibly sweet and sensitive guy. And charismatic. Gian could say the most outrageous shit and it always sounded endearing. Once over breakfast, he told me—totally nonchalant, in the most chivalrous way possible—that I was one of perhaps only two Tyrant authors he’d ever consider having sex with. Even my wife was charmed by that. Everything about him was genuine. He could be flaky and erratic. He made bad business decisions. But that motherfucker had my back for eighteen years. I mean, Golden Retrievers aren’t that loyal. Most mortals aren’t. I loved the guy. Me and all the other janky oddballs.

I Finally Feel Happy and Enjoy Life

TAO LIN: Thank you for your friendship, Gian. Thank you for your warmth, support, playfulness, open-mindedness, ideas, energy, and excitement. Thank you for enjoying literature and drugs with me and for spending time with me. Thank you for publishing many of my favorite writers, like Marie Calloway and Megan Boyle and Darcie Wilder and Brad Phillips. You seemed busy and motivated this year. You’d announced your new press, DiTrapano, which you were excited about. You were going to publish Sean Thor Conroe and Honor Levy and Molly Brodak and Gabriel Smith on it. I think you died happy. On January 18, you DM’d me “wild to think where we were 8 years ago.” I responded “yes. 2013. damn.” You said “lmao i was a freakin mess.” You said “i owe you for getting me to this place where i finally feel happy and enjoy life.” I said “nice, glad you feel that way. i owe you for getting me into and out of whatever happened i think.” You said “lmaooooo. we owe each other. nice.” I’ll miss you.

A Rebellious Intellect

BRYN LOVITT: I’ve taught literary publishing to college students for the past four years. The class attracts all types of readers, but every year I assign a presentation on Giancarlo and the message of Tyrant Books, and usually to the students I believe need it. Students who exude a rebellious intellect. That is the kind of reader that Giancarlo made space for. Readers who trust their writers to take them to the very furthest edge of the page, and in every sense. Giancarlo was like a celebrity to me, and I feel fortunate we had the chance to briefly interact about a project where instead of publish a collection of pieces, we would ask many different writers to rewrite their take of said “classic” piece and publish those together instead. Stunt-y? Sure. But no one could hilariously challenge the capital L literary community like Giancarlo and his flock. As a reader, I am devastated. Truly a loss.

He Said He Didn’t Want Dog Shit on His Floor

EVAN LAVENDER-SMITH: We could smoke cigarettes inside Gian’s apartment, but I wanted to go outside to smoke a cigarette because I felt like I was about to have a heart attack and I didn’t want to have it inside. Gian told me to watch where I stepped in his yard because it was dark out and there was dog shit all over the place. He said he didn’t want dog shit on his floor. I walked out to his yard, sucked on my cigarette so hard, and walked back inside with dog shit on the bottom of my shoes. I told Gian, seated on the other side of the apartment in his workspace by the kitchen, that I must have stepped in dog shit while out in the yard. Dimly lit by the computer monitor, Gian’s face appeared menacing when he reminded me it was only a moment earlier when he had told me to watch where I stepped in his yard. I told him I must have gotten distracted by the pleasure I had taken in sucking on my cigarette. Gian grabbed a roll of paper towels, a bowl of water, and a bottle of soap. I took off my shoes and we went outside. I started cleaning them but I wasn’t doing a good job. Gian took the shoes away from me and started cleaning them himself. I looked around the yard. There was dog shit all over the place. I felt embarrassed. I apologized in as many ways as I could think to apologize, trying to make him laugh. After he’d finished cleaning them, he handed me my shoes and told me I wasn’t allowed to smoke cigarettes outside anymore, that I was only allowed to smoke cigarettes inside. Today, thinking back on what he said, it’s hard for me to imagine those words ever having been spoken before, by anyone. It’s also hard for me to imagine anyone but Gian speaking them.

The last time I was in New York, I forgot that Gian had moved to Italy. I messaged him to see if he wanted to meet up. I remember feeling deflated when he told me he’d need a minute because he’d moved to Italy. I wanted so badly to go back to his apartment in Hell’s Kitchen, feel like I’m about to have a heart attack, suck on a cigarette in his yard, step in dog shit again, and hear what he had to say.

Don’t Sell Yourself Short

HELEN WATERS: Gian held and kept open the space of what is possible as a writer. That was my experience of working with him. He was excited by writers and their writing. He was generous with his talent. When I had an idea for a book review, he was down to read it, suggest edits, and help me get it out there. When I wanted to get work as a freelance writer, he said to put together a pitch and he could connect me with this or that publication. And when I sent him a pitch, he gave advice about how to make it better. 

When he read my book manuscript, an unconventional memoir of vignettes about some very difficult life experiences, he gave me his brand of blunt, honest advice. His best advice to me, which was reiterated several ways, was to not sell myself short. To take the powerful materials I had and use them to their fullest. I tried to say I was being self-deprecating on purpose, and he said he got that, but why take it out on myself, in my book? 

It’s advice I’m still working on taking.

I only really knew Gian through a few dozen emails and the social media exchanges we had. By the time I was working with him he lived in Italy, and when he did visit New York, where I live, we tried to meet up for coffee, but we didn’t ever manage to make it happen. 

His life in Italy looked so perfect and beautiful. I told him that once.

He said, “It really is. I live in actual wonderland.”

“It seems really well deserved,” I said. 

“Can’t tell if it is or isn’t,” he said. “I actually think about that a lot, like, ‘am I being paid back for having to deal with so much bad shit in my life?’” 

That was an important concept for me to hear—that having bad things happen to you doesn’t mean you only deserve bad things. It can just as easily mean you deserve the good life to make up for it. I loved that perspective and have kept it with me.

I came to Gian as a former Gordon Lish student looking for an editor. I think I was in the last-ever class Lish taught at the Center for Fiction. Gordon had said to make sure he, Gordon, saw my pages, and I did leave them with his doorman when I finally had pages to show a couple years later, but I got one of his postcards in the mail saying he was too blind to read them. So, when I saw Gian’s Twitter post about taking on new editing clients, I got in touch. I told Gian that story, about Gordon’s postcard, in my first email to him, a very formal Dear-Mr.-DiTrapano type query, and looking back now I think he might have really liked that—the transfer from Gordon to himself—because I think somewhere he knew he was becoming, or had become, our generation’s best, most fearless editor. 

I’d also like to say that it feels so surreal to be writing this. It’s only been a few days. 

Ask me, ask us, again, in a month, a year, ten years, what Gian’s life and work meant, what his impact has been. I’m still processing and I don’t want to let him go from my thoughts anytime soon. 

I reread most of our emails when I heard he’d died. The last line of the last email I sent him says,

“Thanks for being there to write to.” 

At least that part hasn’t changed. 

Thank you, Gian.

A Godsend

LINCOLN MICHEL: Gian was a true original, an irascible tweeter, and a passionate literary advocate. But most of all he was just a warm and generous person. He was especially generous to younger writers and the weirdos trying to find their place–a godsend in a world full of people looking over your shoulder at the party for someone more important to talk to. I can’t remember exactly when I met him. Around 2009, when I was first getting published and we had just recently founded Gigantic, but it felt like he had always been there and somehow like he always would be. He helped out so many writers and editors my age. And then he did it again with the next wave. And the next. Gian ran Tyrant in a valiant, punk-rock style. He sought out the new voices that no one else was seeking out and left everyone else to play catch-up. He wanted what was new, what was fresh, what everyone else was afraid to touch. That is to say, he did publish how it should be done. He was an icon. A titan. The literary world is poorer now that he’s gone. 

From Lish, Right?

JOSEPH RIIPPI: I didn’t know him well. Through the Lish circle, we met a few times. But I was always just outside the Tyrant group. Didn’t teach, was in the second Lish group but not the first one with him and Luke. 

There was one night after a reading or something though when the people I knew had left, and it was just Gian and some others I didn’t know as well. He made conversation with me. Seemed to recognize I felt separate. I remember we didn’t talk about much anything too interesting, but I remember being incredibly grateful just that he came over and said hey, from Lish, right? It was a kindness, and different than most interactions at the “bar after the reading” sort of event, where, for me at least, it’s intimidating and awkward if you don’t have a “buddy” you feel safe with.

I Am Killing You with This Chet Baker Music Tonight

BABAK LAKGHOMI: I had followed New York Tyrant magazine and admired some of the books that Tyrant published. An immigrant in Canada and an engineer by day, I was mainly writing by myself and wasn’t connected to many other writers. I hadn’t really published much other than some very short stories here and there and had just finished what I thought was draft of a novel. 

One day Gian tweeted that he was offering editorial advice on new manuscripts. I immediately sent him my draft. I wasn’t expecting anything other than getting feedback on how to improve the story. Within a week, he emailed me back that he loves the book and he is going to publish it. It was nothing like sending your stories to magazines and waiting for months to get a form rejection. Floating Notes was a strange little book, and its publication still seems like a dream that he made it true. Gian made me feel that my voice mattered and he didn’t care about anything but the writing itself. I could do anything weird and push things as far as I wanted. 

I met him several months after the publication of the book in Italy. I was worried that my presence wouldn’t match his expectations from my writing, but he immediately made me feel at home. We started drinking sometime around noon to past midnight, and he’d keep topping our glasses. He shared lots of stories of his own and others. He kept playing songs by Chet Baker. He would say, “I am sorry I am killing you with this Chet Baker music tonight,” then would go on and play more songs by him. It was a great night. 

About a month ago he’d left me a voice message about my second book and apologized for not finishing reading it yet, but sent me something he’d written [an unpublished essay called “Renaissance After the Plague”]. I was having a tough time that week and I remember I was laughing so hard after reading what he’d written. I was energized for days after. 

“I called eight friends, two psychiatrists, my husband, my sister, my brother. I told them all that we were all going to be fine and safe. I could see it. I was here to help us all and it was the Lord behind me. I was touched, blessed, over pouring with divine inspiration. I was being breathed into by universe and was pacing the apartment promising to serve literature for my entire life. To fulfill a vision.”

I think Gian truly did fulfill that vision. The sad part for us is that his entire life was shorter than we wanted. The last time we spoke on the phone we just went through his last edits on my book. The conversation ended just like that. I wished there had been more to it, or I’d had a chance to see him one more time. 

A Sweet-Natured Gigglepuss

LEXI KENT-MONNING: In talking with Giancarlo’s other students since he died, I haven’t heard the same quote twice. He inherently saw what would drive someone, and the advice he gave was completely different and totally effective for each person. He was unbelievably generous with his time, talent, honesty, and laughter. That he was written about as a “bad boy” was hilarious to me — I think his honesty is what got him that reputation, and it was also his superpower. But a “bad boy”? Gian was a sweet-natured gigglepuss. There was nothing more exciting than receiving a coveted “Dude, man!” of approval from him after I’d been struggling with editing a specific sentence for months. He celebrated single sentences with such paternal pride, it made me want to make every sentence worthy of his excitement. His connections with writers were so multifaceted, I don’t know how he had enough time and energy to keep widening his circle, but he always did. Aside from working on writing, we’d constantly send each other Fleetwood Mac memes, photos of bulldogs, movie and music recommendations, and swoony giggling voice notes about Rufus Wainwright. Gian was this present for everyone, and every person knew how much he loved them. Last year I woke up on my birthday to tons of messages from him. He’d walked around his family’s villa in Sezze and taken dozens of photos of the spring blooms and sent them to me like a WhatsApp bouquet, along with the clip from Sixteen Candles of Anthony Michael Hall singing to Molly Ringwald in the parked convertible. I didn’t know he even knew my birthday. From existence to a sentence, he championed his students with limitless pride and warmth.

Hotels, Taxis, Dive Bars, Staying Up All Night

JONATHAN SMITH: A few days before one of the last times Gian came to New York, he sent me a text message: “Sup bich. Storm warning for NYC: I get in Monday night.” 

Gian didn’t just light up a room when he walked into it, he lit up an entire city. His presence was so big, so all-encompassing, it could be tracked on a Doppler radar. While his ostensible “job” was to publish great writing—which he did, a lot—it always seemed to me like his main job was just to be generally awesome, and that his brilliant work was an inevitability of a life lived as well as his. 

Some things Gian loved: hotels, taxis, dive bars, staying up all night, the 1979 film Over the Edge, pool, cigarettes, words arranged in weird and beautiful ways. 

He seemed to be both a kid and an adult. He said “sweet” often and unironically, usually with a mischievous, boyish smile, but he also had back problems and owned property. Even though his style was incredible and he was plenty old enough to be a father, he frequently looked like he was wearing his dad’s clothes. And he was something of a father figure to so many. Being in his presence brought a feeling of serenity. Of comfort and calm and a sense that life is hard and often fucked, but it’s fine, we’re together right now, Stevie Nicks is playing on the computer and also the guy is on the way. Relax.

Gian spoke about writers and literature like no one else I have ever known. Sentences were “fire.” He talked about manuscripts he was reading or pieces on nytyrant.com the way other people describe physical feats like touchdowns or home runs. He would get animated, a wide smile and his heart pounding as he talked about a poem or a paragraph. He might as well have been wearing a foam finger.

Above all else he was an incredible friend. He would buy dinner or pay for the cab, even when the numbers in his bank account didn’t justify it. He was always, always there whenever anyone needed him. His home was open to everyone, whether it was an apartment in Hell’s Kitchen or Rome or Naples or a literal goddamn castle in Sezze. Stay as long as you want and come back whenever. When I left, I always wished I had stayed longer.

I saw Gian a few days before he died. We sat outside at my apartment and talked and he seemed the same as he’s always been. A sense of kindness and comfort. He was excited about launching a new press and the meetings he had set up for the week. It was the first time I’d seen him in over a year, and I will be forever grateful I got to see him one last time. After I heard the news I noticed the chair outside where he’d sat was still in the same position. I didn’t move it for days. I looked around the ground for cigarette butts he might have left. I will miss him forever.

He Came Up with the Idea

GABRIEL PONCE DE LEÓN: Some years ago I was in Rome during Thanksgiving. My friend Giancarlo DiTrapano had just returned from New York. He had brought some chocolates with him—not the ordinary kind from the supermarket. “You don’t realize how much the plane actually vibrates,” he told me. Giancarlo came up with the idea of having Thanksgiving dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe on Via Veneto, but by the time we got there it was full, so we went up the street to an old hotel with beautiful frescos inside and ordered Martinis, and the waiter gave us complimentary turkey sandwiches, but since they were very small we went to an Argentinian steakhouse after that. Gian kept going outside to smoke and make phone calls because back in America a Twitter mob was coming at him over a recent tweet of his about no longer working with literary agents. At some point we met up with Claire, hit up a hole-in-the-wall karaoke spot, then went to Piazza Navona and hung out by one of the fountains for a while. After that we went back to Giancarlo and Giuseppe’s apartment on Via Flavia and stayed up for a couple more hours, until even New York was asleep, and wound up sleeping till 3-4 PM the next day. Giancarlo and Giuseppe had welcomed me into their home and family, and those were some of the best months of my life.

The following year on Thanksgiving I was eating pasta in Montreuil and I sent a text to Giancarlo to see what he was up to. He told me he was in Italy eating pork chops. Random memory. I loved him so much.

Dive Directly in

HURLEY WINKLER: Before I arrived at Villa DiTrapano for the Mors Tua Vita Mea workshop, I submitted a short story to our workshop group. In the story, I referenced a shade of navy blue called “French Navy,” which I’d named after an upbeat, poppy, and arguably very girly Camera Obscura song. “You know, there’s a Camera Obscura song called ‘French Navy,’” Gian told me the morning my story was up for workshop. I gulped, worried that he was going to call me out for being basic or mainstream or something equally embarrassing. But instead, he said, “I fucking love that song.”

I think this sums up how I felt around Gian that week in Italy—waves of intimidation, of not-cool-enough-ness, that were always resolved by his genuine congeniality. It was my first time ever meeting Gian, and I kept reminding myself that it was normal to be intimidated by someone I’d only ever known by reputation alone. Face to face, though, Gian wasn’t intimidating at all. He was warm and encouraging. That’s not to say he ever sugarcoated anything. He said what he needed to say to teach me and the rest of our group of writers to be better writers. While workshopping my story, he implored me to “dive directly in” to whatever I was avoiding on the page. That whatever I was avoiding on the page was the exact reason why I really needed to be writing in the first place.

That week in Italy, Gian drove our rental van up and down the hills and Mediterranean coastline just miles from his family’s villa. He taught our group of five students that the Italians believe it’s good luck to wave to sheep, and after seeing how delighted we all were by this little piece of folklore, he started pointing out sheep every time he saw them (which, in the Italian countryside, was very often). Chelsea Hodson, the cofounder of the workshop, was our DJ in the van, playing lots of Austra and Angel Olsen and Rihanna’s “Love on the Brain.” On a drive to the Gardens of Ninfa, she put on that very Camera Obscura song I’d referenced in my workshop story. And behind the wheel, Gian giggled and sang every word.

He Stayed at His Boyfriend’s

BRANDON HOBSON: I first met Gian in May 2011. Before then, he had published a few of my stories in two different issues of New York Tyrant, and we’d talked a few times about literature, The Outsiders, and music. He was a huge fan of The Outsiders. In May 2011, Diane Williams asked me to read at the NOON launch in NYC and I needed a place to stay. Gian was quick to offer his apartment to me in Hell’s Kitchen. I told him my wife would be coming along and was that OK? Of course, he said, bring anyone you want. I wanted to give him money for putting us up but he refused. He stayed at his boyfriend’s and told us to stay as long as we wanted. He took me out to a bar and introduced me to Chiara Barzini, James Yeh, Lincoln Michel, and Adam Wilson. He let me take him out to dinner at an Italian restaurant, where we drank a bunch of wine and I had some of the best Italian food of my life, but he still refused any money for letting me stay at his place. More recently he invited me to stay at his place in Italy, but I never made it. But that’s how I choose to remember him, as one of the most generous people I’ve ever known.

Getting Drunk and Sharing Publishing Advice

MICHAEL SEIDLINGER: Gian was the sort of editor and reader that could identify the next enticing new thing in literature with such ease. He also never bothered trying to play by the rules and routines that traditional publishing adheres to. I remember when we first met in person, though we had been interacting often online on social media and on HTMLGiant. It was around the time I was in New York City for the summer interning at Melville House. This was back in 2013, I think. I was just starting up Civil Coping Mechanisms (CCM), and we chatted like publishers, talking about everything from print sizes to Print-on-Demand, our favorite emerging writers in the online literary community to how much mainstream literature sucks. This was all set to the tune of whiskey, a cigar or two for me, plenty of cigarettes for him, sitting out in the backyard of some bar just off Franklin Ave. There was a profound respect between us because we both knew we were in a thankless business that would likely only lead to our demise or at least burnout. But we both went for it. “Good luck to you,” he told me when we finished chatting, Gian insisting on paying the bar tab (he was generous like that). I chuckled and said something, I don’t remember what, maybe a “yeah man, you too,” before I stumbled back out into the 4 AM streets of Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Gian would go on to put out Marie Calloway’s book, What Purpose Did I Serve in Your Life, a week or two later. He had given me a copy that night; I handed him a galley of a book I was putting out in a few weeks, Gabby Bess’s Alone with Other People. He said Calloway was going to be the next best thing and, true to his word, he was right. We’d email every once in a while, and though we crossed paths at readings in and around New York City in the years to follow, that night was our only time together, just the two of us, being people, getting drunk and sharing publishing advice. I’ll miss him like I miss the euphoria you get after reading a great book for the first time, knowing well that you could reread and recommend it, but that first time, that moment of unknown and discovery, just like with publishing back in 2013 and the things Gian was doing, the stuff indies in the community were championing, you only get to experience it once.

He Was Happy To

ADAM WILSON: I met Gian in 2009, at a party on the Lower East Side. I think we first bonded over our mutual affection for the movie Over The Edge. He sent me an email the next day apologizing for leaving the party early, but suggested we get properly altered one night and “speak our minds.” 

I had just finished my MFA and was starting to send my stories out. Half the time I didn’t even get a response. Gian rejected the first couple things I sent him, but he was encouraging, which meant a lot. When he finally accepted a story for Tyrant, he suggested we celebrate by going to the Pride parade to “grab a drink and buy boas and shit.” 

I went through the twelve years of our email correspondence after I found out he passed. His email style was concise and direct, just like much of the writing he admired. When my son was born he simply wrote: “That rules!” 

One thing I noticed across our correspondence is that I was often asking him for favors. Could you introduce me to so and so? Would you read my friend’s novel? Reading through his responses, I was amazed (through not surprised) to see that he always did the favor without hesitation. He was happy to. Unlike almost everyone else in publishing, there was no economy of favors with Gian. He just wanted to help out his friends and put work he liked into the world. His was a crusade against formalities and bullshit. Just such a kind and genuine guy. I’m grateful to have known him.

He Bought a Bed for Us

LILY HOANG: In Summer 2016, I took two tours through Europe. The first one was so much fun that the moment I returned to desolate southern Mexico, I schemed a way to go back as quickly as possible. Two weeks later, I was on a plane to Barcelona. The second time, I stayed with Gian[1] and his partner Giuseppe at their flat in Rome for a few days. We ate and laughed and talked and gabbed like long-lost BFFs. He loved Rome, he said, and he was grateful for what the city offered him, he was happier, healthier. All that stuff is great, but most of all—Giuseppe[2]. That they were so in love.

On my first tour through Europe that summer, Gian was in New York and Giuseppe was working on location. Giuseppe is a costume designer. The walls of their flat were mostly bare, except for a large mirror that was likely used during sex and tiny, ornate, hand-stitched dresses, which I only learned on my second visit were Giuseppe’s designs. I stayed in Gian’s flat for some weeks, rent-free. It was a decadent space, high ceilings, intricate molding, lush walls. It took me more than half an hour to figure out how to open the complicated machinery of the front door. Just a few blocks from Termini Station, every guy I brought home drooled at the grandeur of the place. It didn’t have much furniture or anything at all to fill it, but the flat itself was dazzling. I stayed there for several weeks, and whereas the internet had connected Gian and me for a long time, I’d hung out with him IRL less than a handful of times[3], and most of those times were at AWP or with a large group. I wasn’t a stranger, but only because of the false intimacy of the internet writing community.   

*

Jackie was zigzagging her way across Europe. She’d been to Rome earlier and spent a few days with Gian and Giuseppe[4], but I was teaching in Helsinki at the time. We coordinated our travels and found eighteen hours together in Rome, after which she and her then boyfriend would fly back to Cambridge. We met at Gian’s flat and planned to walk through all the sites of Rome under moonlight and watch the sunrise from an elevated spot on the outskirts of the city. Before sunrise, we walked through history. At the top of the vista, we looked at that old city, still sleeping, and at the mountains behind it. We kept saying how grateful we were to Gian, his boundless generosity, this beautiful life he’d made in Rome after the hard life he’d had in New York. The sky was beginning to brighten with dawn. It’s the coldest time of day, dawn. You’d think the darkest hour would also be the coldest, but the temperature dips down right before the sun rises. We waited with insobriety. We knew the sun was coming, and we knew it would be spectacular. Around us, other people—some Romans, some Italians, some tourists, like us—waited, too. Jackie had researched it. This was supposed to be the best vantage for sunrise in the city. The anticipation was thrilling. And then: the first rays of the sun crested over the mountain. Rome had been in darkness, and now, slowly, the light tendrilled through the city. We were witnessing the sun rise over civilization. It was more epic than spectacular. It was revelation and it happened every single day. We wept. We held each other. We never lost sight of that sun and that city, and we thanked Gian for this moment. Afterwards, we wandered back down, towards the subway, and the streets became crowded with Italians going to work and tourists beginning their tourism.[5] By the time we found the subway, it was already hot.

*

Gian DiTrapano[6] was as epic as a Roman sunrise. He impacted through his art, through his publishing, through his friendship, through his love, and through his love for the purity of hedonism.


[1] JACKIE WANG: Giancarlo DiTrapano has died. It’s strange to think that a conversation can end mid-sentence. I had been messaging with Gian recently, first about his friend Paolo Valerio who was trying to publish a book on femminielli/third gender folx in Neapolitan culture, then about the byzantine jure sangiunis law that allows people to apply for Italian citizenship through an unbroken bloodline, which Gian did, which I am trying to do—he had recently given me the contact information of the lawyer his brother hired to take care of the process. “Maybe she will give you a discount if you tell her I referred you! I will email her now.” How fucking stupid that our last exchange was about bureaucracy and taxes. What a waste of precious life, of scarce time—but Gian was just such a generous guy, maternal even, in a gay daddy kind of way. 

[2] “Can you believe it? This guy initiated me”—spoken like it was the best thing in the universe. Always that sense of awe. Tender love for the freaks and the perverts of the world. And how lovingly he spoke of Giuseppe. When I ask Gian to recommend me a place to get pizza in Napoli (our next stop) he wrote down a spot while gushing about how divine it was to see Giuseppe eat multiple double mozzarella di bufala Neapolitan pies at this joint. 

[3] I met Gian when he was rolling through town to accept a PEN Award for Atticus Lish. The award ceremony didn’t go well. It didn’t matter anyway, fuck those literary establishment people. He was all humor and irreverence and love for the writers he felt in his bones were the “real deal,” he fucking believed in Atticus’s Preparation for the Next Life. He believed in the good shit. When I met Atticus (at a PEN festival, of course), all I could think about was the way Gian gushed about him, that I was in the presence of an otherworldly genius. 

[4] It was summer 2016 when I really got to spend time with Gian. Dear Gian, this is Lily’s friend Jackie. We met that one time in Boston. We are coming to Italy. He was living in a bare and bombed-out apartment in the center of Rome, down the street from the Bernini statue of the ecstasy of Saint Teresa, with his delightful husband Giuseppe, a jolly aesthete who made sets for operas. There was almost no furniture in the place. It had a shabby gothic feel, like it had been abandoned years ago by an esoteric sex cult. “I don’t have a bed. You can come, but where will the three of you sleep?” He bought a bed for us. The guest room where we stayed was the red of a womb and only contained the fan and bed he bought for our stay.

[5] We roamed those streets all night, intoxicated, the streets completely empty save for the couple fucking outside the pantheon, or the couple breaking up by the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi in the Piazza Navona—we walked to Parco del Gianicolo to watch the sun rise over Rome, waiting for the light to break and blaze and blast beams over thousands of years of sedimented history, the ruins of the Roman forum and the colosseum bathed in pink light—we stood silently on the terrace, contemplating the time congealed in all those monuments, gobsmacked by the epic vista. When day had fully broken we continued our trek, past the equestrian statue of Garibaldi with a single pigeon shitting on his head, and toward the Vatican, which, at that ungodly hour, was completely empty. We roamed the Vatican in an eerie calm and as we crossed Piazza San Pietro, we could see, in the distance, the crowds of tourists descending, like an ominous tidal wave inching toward St Peter’s square.

[6] I guess I became an Italophile on that trip. It’s hard for me to imagine Italy without Gian in it. It’s hard to imagine that the next time I go he won’t be there.

The Big Bro

CORY BENNET: Giancarlo was the big bro, the big homie. He was the dude on the block with the AK resting against the wall near his front door, the old head at the spot, the one who bailed you out of Santa Rita Jail in Alameda County when no one else would answer the phone.

I attended Mors Tua Vita Mea V in early October 2019. That story is for something else, another time, but I will say that it changed my life. Chelsea and Giancarlo were like magic when they worked together.

It was through MTVM that I met Mila Jaroniec, the woman whose soul lights me on fire. She was at MTVM II, I was at V. I asked her to be my wife. Giancarlo heard and said, “Chelsea and I will be marrying you two in Sezze…” One time on social media, I called her an “Eastern bloc bad bitch” and Gian came at me a little bit—like I was really calling his girl a bitch. I told him it means something else where I’m from and he laughed it off, said he was only giving me shit. It was important to me that he knew I was riding with Mila to the grave and would body anyone who hurt her. He trusted me. Over the past few months he would send me random Juice WRLD lyrics that reminded him of Mila and I, or check in on me and simply say he was so happy for us.

I keep the notes he wrote on the story I workshopped in Italy, in the closet, on the shelf next to a shoebox of letters from my biological father when he was incarcerated. I never finished the story, it grew too painful to write but I can hear Gian telling me that the scary shit is the thing that needs to be written.

I’ve had many writing teachers, instructors, and mentors. I didn’t listen to shit they said. But I listened to Chelsea and I listened to Giancarlo. Where I’m from, when the big homie dies, you gotta step up. I expect anyone who claimed to have Giancarlo’s back, or that they had love for him, to show yourself and step up. I’ll say it with my chest:  I love Giancarlo intensely and that’s on the homies. Any haters want to speak up, holla at me and we can handle that.

This Charming Man

ELLEN MOYNIHAN: The day before I heard about Gian I was standing in my kitchen doing the dishes and it came to me out of nowhere. A memory about twelve years old, but landing so completely it was like I was there again.

We were sitting in his studio on 46th Street, and it was warm out. I’m sure we were drinking, probably wine. Gian’s bulldog Rufus was snoring somewhere, or shuffling around. Maybe the door to the backyard was open.

We were having a work meeting, on a call with who knows who about Issue 3 or 4 of New York Tyrant. The phone was on speaker.

Gian prepared a little plate of cheese and crackers for us to share and we sat next to each other on his leather couch while the call went on.

The conundrum immediately presented itself. 

We tried taking small bites, lest the crunching mar the conversation. At one point I covered my mouth with both hands while chewing.

I watched him place an entire cracker, cheese atop, carefully into his mouth as soon as he finished a sentence and crunch with his back teeth. I was desperate to laugh but I don’t remember if I did.

The day after I remembered that I got a phone call from a mutual friend and I haven’t been the same since. It had been a very long time since we’d spoken, me and Gian. 

I work as a newspaper reporter now, mainly covering crime. I haven’t had a drink in ten years. Life is a lot less of a wild blur than it used to be.

Gian was a huge presence in a life that’s no longer mine—a friend and a ready adventure partner, a collaborator and cohort. Sometimes I got mad at him and wondered if he called the New York Tyrant after himself. For a handful of years we edited and organized and gossiped and got high. We talked about writing and writers and threw parties and danced in bars to the Smiths.

It’s only now that I realize how long ago that was, and it’s too late.

Dude, Where Did I Park My Motorino?

ANONYMOUS: In many ways Giancarlo and I led parallel lives. When I met him in 2006 or 2007 we were the only NYC indie publishers that lived on the island of Manhattan. We also had a serendipitous Rome-NYC connection, both of us moving back and forth between the two cities multiple times in the past decade, most recently overlapping in 2018–9. In other ways our lives were perpendicular. Although we championed many of the same writers our approaches to publishing were vastly different, and although we lived in the same cities we lived in time zones 12 hours apart. Gian used to always complain that I kept “grandma hours,” which I took as a compliment—I always thought the old adage about the city that never sleeps implied it was also the city that never woke up. I was Gian’s breakfast friend. Remember the Gary Lutz launch party at Murmrr Ballroom in Brooklyn in December of 2019? I was the guy who went to roust him from the Jane Hotel after a late night of partying and get some breakfast (at 4 PM) and water into him and get him into a taxi and basically prop him up in front of the microphone so he could introduce the writers. I was the guy Gian would call to help look for his motorino when he couldn’t remember where he parked it the night before. As we walked around the streets of Rome he recounted the details of his debaucherous night to provide clues as to the possible whereabouts of his motorino. This was the aftermath of an ordinary night for Gian. There were only a handful of nights we were able to match Gian drink for drink and we usually suffered for days after, yet he still managed to live this way every day and also run a thriving press. When we finally found the motorino, ends up it had broken down and that’s why he couldn’t ride it home—it was the motorino’s failure, not his. This pretty much sums up Gian, if all he needed to live was his heart he could have lived forever and in many ways he still does live on through all the books he published and all that he unselfishly gave of himself to everyone else.  

He Became My New York

THOMAS MORTON: The reason I met Gian is because he put a painting of James Spader from that scene in Pretty in Pink when he’s in the parking lot with the sunglasses on and the unlit cigarette hanging from his lip on the cover of the second issue of his magazine, the New York Tyrant. I saw it on a bottom shelf at Bowery News, probably gave it a little head nod to show I got the reference, then flipped it over to the list of contributors on the back, maybe one of whom I recognized, guessing Sam Lipsyte. I thought, Well, this’ll probably mostly suck, but fuck it, good cover.

I cracked it to read on the subway home, then kept reading when I got back to my apartment, then finished the thing sometime after I should have gone to sleep. It was immaculate, every single piece in it, and reading it made me feel like a teen somewhere hearing punk rock or whatever it was for them—goth in my case—for the first time. Like there was something already out there, expansive and fully-formed, that I’d been waiting for without realizing it, a scene of people all on the same wavelength that I both wanted to be part of and was intimidated by the question of whether or not I even could. 

When the next issue came out its cover was just the cover from the Smiths’ album The Queen Is Dead but they’d changed the text to The Tyrant Is Dead. I was like, Jesus, really? But same deal with the stories, they shared this ineffable sense of belonging together like they were all part of the canon of some distinct, dark genre I’d missed hearing about. I assumed New York Tyrant was a they at this point, a proper publishing outfit run by a group of more than one person, and that the listed editor “GianCarlo DiTrapano,” capitalized like that I swear, was some towering asshole-sunglasses Italian who lorded it over them and made people at their workspace call him “The Tyrant” and probably had a younger girlfriend who picked the cover art and maybe did the design. This is who I thought I was writing to when I reached out to him for the first time, to see if he’d be interested in doing a lit thing for the Vice website with some of his writers and ask whether or not he wrote too. I wish I could find that first email, I think I actually called him “Mr. DiTrapano.” I definitely did the snooty capital letters.

The writing he brought in was so good. Ditto his writing. He claimed he’d never written but would “take a crack,” then sent me jolting, pages-long introductions and descriptions of authors and wayward diatribes that I’d read on their own and just sit with before looking at the “actual text.” It took a very short time to realize that the Tyrant was just him, that the whole office/scene/established genre I’d concocted was all him. Him and his taste and his desk under his bed in his dingy, unlit little apartment, and of course his ridiculous innate skill at finding people who wrote the way he wanted to read and bringing them under his wing to nurture not just their writing or their lives as writers, or their careers or whatever it is I’m trying to say, but them themselves, as people and as friends. 

It took slightly longer to meet him in person and realize how far off he was from the Euro-steez asshole I’d been picturing. Maybe the opposite? I think I legit double-took when he sat down across from me at KGB, at my eyeline, and said his name Gian in its proper West Virginia wheeze. 

It’d probably be more respectful right now to say something like he was a salt-of-the-earth type person, but Gian was fucking soil. Cherubically unkempt, hair I don’t think anyone could draw, bag and pockets full of too much shit—generally half of which he’d dump out all over the place upon arrival, already talking in the door, rifling through the books on your shelf and whatever else’s in range then holding up something and making fun of you for owning it, same delivery for funny stories as for gossip as for completely horrible, devastating news, same punctuating laugh, not actually snaggletoothed, nice teeth really, but the kind of guy with the face and grin that puts the term snaggletoothed in your head. Whenever I try to describe Gian to people or talk about him with our friends, the word I most commonly default to is monster. But like good monster, like a Muppet monster. Monster not in that he lacked something human or didn’t deserve to be called a person, but because it felt like he surpassed that, had way too much human, a monstrous amount of humanity and spirit. A monster’s amount. Actually I just remembered I used to tell people he looked like “a railway killer,” too. To be fair, this is from back when he wasn’t smiling in pictures so much. 

The picture of Spader with the cigarette became the Tyrant logo like two issues after I saw it. Gian had the original art framed and hanging by the door in his apartment. The covers he’d pick back then for the Tyrant, obviously him, were loaded with classic high-school signifiers: The Smiths and Spader, Bud Cort on the cliffside from Harold and Maude, his beloved Over the Edge. This was a period of pervasive retro-mining in publishing and culture in general, but that wasn’t what he was doing with them. They weren’t like campy jokes. He was using them the way we all used to, as earnest teenage semaphore to signal to other members of his tribe and identify himself as a fellow traveler. 

He also managed to make them art, to find the moments in them or elements that were art, shots and single frames that you could have seen a million times and missed, or managed to appreciate in passing, but he’d pause it and make you see the painting that he saw. YouTube too. My texts with him are littered with stills from music videos and gay porn and old TV he needed me to see. Motherfucker could screen-grab like Nan Goldin. 

Gian introduced me to everyone I know whose writing I love and who make up most of the people I love. Didn’t just tell me about them, physically introduced me. Went out of his way to do it, dragged me out of the house to readings and to meet folks at bars, badgered the hell out of me if I tried to resist. He became my New York for a long time, the embodier and sharer of what living in the city is supposed to feel like, the central node or maybe pillar of the world I got to inhabit there. 

I think a lot of editors are really frustrated writers, or would prefer to think of themselves as writers and editing’s a close-enough day job, but Gian was a real honest-to-the-fucking-lord editor. It was his genius. He was in love with his writers, like properly in love. He’d crush out on them as he was pursuing them, just talk endlessly and repetitively about them, every conversation, then when he’d get them he’d bring them around and make everyone meet them like a new boyfriend batting way out of his league. The things he would say were ridiculous, sounded like the lamest most coked-up press-agent flattery if they’d come out of anyone else’s mouth. He told me reading Atticus Lish’s book Preparations for the Next Life “made me feel like a better person.” While Megan Boyle was working on Liveblog, he said something to the effect of “pretty sure this is like the next step in the evolution of all literature” before laughing himself into a coughing fit. What’s crazy wasn’t that he sincerely meant it, which was clear, but that the way he could say it, or maybe just that it was him saying it, made you get it too. Or at least me. These aren’t great examples since I think they’re both from phone calls, but in person his little casual drops of clarion praise were the greatest, most validating feeling. It was like he was everyone he knew’s personal hype man.

I can’t remember who it was, but one time Gian was making me meet someone and he told them, “This is the guy who got me writing.” Pretty sure that’s bullshit, and was pretty sure at the time, but to this day it’s like the hardest pride I’ve ever felt. 

This world feels bogus without him. 

He Always Knew Where to Go Next

RACHEL RABBIT WHITE: Gian always knew where to go next. When I think of those nights, I think of us scurrying in heels, waving our cigarettes, trying to keep up with him. I think of Gian putting us in cabs, waking up to a driver shaking my shoulders, concerned and repeating “miss, miss.”

For Marie’s book party, Gian rented out a bar which seemed too glamorous to be real, an entire bar in Manhattan just for us fuck-ups? We got too drunk and when Marie removed her dress on the dance floor (a party trick I’ll always admire) the manager kicked us all out.

We were young and there was a certain wisdom in our stupidity. We knew it was important to go out, to keep going out.

Back then there was still that feeling—that promise, something was going to happen.

Gian’s Times Square apartment: mirrored trays, tarot cards, cigarette smoke, those hours just before the sun came up when you still felt unstoppable. It takes some getting used to—being OK with the sun coming up. My impulse is dread, that I’ve made a terrible mistake. Maybe in some small way it reminds us of life and loss and how the two are inherently tangled.

Years later, in a cave-themed bar in Italy. As always he insisted on paying for drinks. As always he had brilliant plans and ideas. Driving around Rome, talking all night. A life is made up of losses and recoveries, and one is always trying to understand them, to give them meaning.

There are certain people with whom there is an immediate intimacy, an ease, a sense of belonging. There are certain people who, despite distances or changes, you feel that you’ll always find again.

It was so easy to believe I’d never lose writing when I first moved to New York, like it was the one thing I’d always have.

Years passed, I was writing or not writing. I was not writing but I was reading and hearing about this book Cherry that Gian had a hand in publishing. Of course it was Gian who would introduce me to my future fiancé, Gian who always had a sense for romance in the traditional sense, the turn toward the new, allowing the next moment to happen. “You two should definitely be a couple,” Gian said, when I told him Nico had emailed me from a burner phone he bought while living in a halfway house.

To dedicate your life to something larger than yourself—to dedicate your life to literature.

Gian never lost writing. Now I know it’s too easy to lose. In his passing it’s wild to see how much time Gian spent with all of us fuck-up writers, trying to not let us lose it too.

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