Giancarlo DiTrapano (1974–2021)

Two writers pay tribute to the poet and songwriter Giancarlo DiTrapano, who passed away on March 30. DiTrapano was the mastermind behind the literary magazine New York Tyrant and the press Tyrant Books. A writer’s editor, Gian loved his work in ways that now seem sui generis. He was brave, ferociously supportive, and developed deep connections with his authors. He is missed.


By Nico Walker

He was in a hotel room, in New York City, like stars do it. I won’t pretend he wasn’t consoled by this. He admired decadence. If anyone wants to repent, let’s not bring his name into it.

The horror of it was in the timing. He had more left in him. Things were looking up. He was wanting to work. He had made promises. All that’s over with.

Now you love him more than you ever did, except you cannot tell him. You need him more than you ever did, and he cannot help you.

It isn’t as though there’s a million extra people that could fill his shoes. Most all that’s on hand is an extra million people that are scared to death, that’d sooner cut their own throats than maybe say the wrong thing.

Who will start shit now?

You would have had to have met him to know he preferred being nice and how fucking gentle and even shy he was. I remember the first time I heard him speak. This was over a telephone. I was in prison at the time. The conversation had to do with the manuscript for a novel, what I had written and he had put together into something presentable. The plan had been that it’d be released on his press, Tyrant. Then that changed, and I was finding out other things.

I called the Tyrant people, who were all on speaker. They told me what had changed and why and how it’d work now. Its being changed wasn’t to do with my being in prison. I had been in prison the whole time. What had changed was the manuscript had been sold to a bigger publishing house, and that was good for everyone that’d had a part in it, yet hearing him talk and how he sounded like he was feeling bad about it, hearing him keep repeating himself, saying it was a good book, it’s just that this had to be done and more people would read the book when it came out for this having been done, saying these things in a tone you might use to talk someone out of drastic measures, I knew that he was the one on the phone who understood how I felt about what had happened. He got that I was fucked up about Tyrant not printing the book, regardless of whatever the money maybe might be, because in my head I was like: “What, it isn’t good enough for you now?”

Which of course was dumb and insane.

He had that kind of intuition for writers. He had sympathy for them, or the ones that try to not be a waste of time, anyway. He had consideration for what it does to you to care about some words on some paper so much, when it isn’t just the frivolous shit, somebody that likes the idea of being a writer, when it isn’t vanity, when it’s vanity’s more troublesome cousin, obsession. Any writer worth a fuck should be in the business of killing lies. Regardless of what fictions must be made up, the art of writing is about killing lies. It is a kind of war and, being that, it may consume you, or it may make you sick, so he had consideration for writers. He made an effort to always come off serious about the work. He deferred to writers. You felt less crazy for that.

He treated words with reverence. Simply he loved words on a page. And if he thought you could write, then he loved you, too. And to hear him say that he believed in you gave you a confidence. You’d be at a loss to have come up with that confidence on your own. A writer must have an editor for this. The editor is the optimist.

My knowing him ended much as it started, over the phone. Here’s something: I never was in the same room as him. The woman I’m engaged to and I were going to try and get to Italy last summer to see him, stay at his place where he did his workshop. It’d have been tricky to get out there before all the bullshit with the virus and lockdowns happened. Already I was on supervised release from federal prison and I’d have needed a court order to get the passport. All the same it seemed feasible before the world came apart.

Things don’t happen like you want. We both wanted to see him. We both wanted to see this place we had heard so much about. He wanted us there, too. He didn’t ever act like he was maybe just saying it and hoping you didn’t actually make it, as if really he’d have been inconvenienced by finding some space for you to use there. We were welcome. A lot of people were: Stevie Nicks, Rufus Wainwright, i.a.—many have been invited.

He was emphatic that Rachel and I make it there, though. She and I both went back with him a ways in our own rights. He and Rachel were friends when he lived in New York. I, of course, knew him from when he prepared the aforementioned manuscript, what later went on to be a published novel. And he had something of a vested interest in us as he was the one to have had the idea of us first. He had put Rachel onto me after I got out of prison. At the time all I knew about her was some things on the internet and that I liked her poems. He did not tell me what he had said to her or what she had said to it. He didn’t tell me there had been a conspiracy. I wouldn’t know until later on. Anyway. Long story short: he brought us together, and I am grateful to him for that.

The last time I spoke to him, Rachel and I had traveled to LA to do some work things and get our hair done, and it was the night before the day we left and there was a discount jingo that had tried to write a hit piece about me that was out that weekend. So my friend in Italy had taken up for me on Twitter, Twitter being just a vague impression in my head and not something I could ever use, say, to defend my own reputation.

I texted him that night to say that I was all right and that the hit piece was so much nothing to me that I really didn’t care. It was late in LA, and I had no idea what time it was in Naples. It should be said that you could call him anytime and he would get back to you within a few minutes, if he didn’t pick up right away.

In the past months we had talked on the phone now and then about things, mostly what we were working on, our problems with all that type of shit. He knew I’d been working on another novel and how I didn’t know what’d happen with it, and that all I was worried about, worrying myself sick about, was that I’d think it wasn’t what it ought to be when all the writing-of-it part was over and done with. I knew he had a lot going on. Meanwhile, he had been talking to various writers. He liked the writers. The writers had written things. He liked what they’d written. He believed in them.

I’d been through some stress because of I’d had a hit-or-miss year, even by 2020 standards, and was in a bad mood maybe and told him I wasn’t expecting much from what might be next in big-picture terms this year, 2021. My outlook was bleak. A bit melodramatic. Not cool. I said I was expecting everything up to and including mass-starvation.

I mentioned to him how I thought the scenery in Northeast Kentucky was nice and how I liked looking at the woods on the hills up that way and the climate is nice, plus it appealed to me how there wasn’t really shit up there anybody’d come looking for and one could stay out of the way there and just look at trees and grass and deer on hills. He heard me out on all of that and took it all in gracefully.

The last words he sent he texted back to say he kind of felt the opposite, like shit was just now getting good. He said Naples was the place to be anyway. He said Rachel and I would see when we came through.

To write a manuscript and get it sold, it doesn’t hurt any to be a pessimist. You won’t ever get a book done, though, not with just that. You’ll need an optimist to help. That’s where an editor comes in. The writer cannot be the optimist. The writer has to be free to imagine things going wrong. An optimistic writer will either starve to death or write self-help books and be a joke. If there are going to be more books, there will have to be an optimist to publish them, an optimist who gives a shit. Gian’ll be remembered for that.

There are no accidents in a book. Nothing is unintentional. Gian did not put those books together by chance. It was not luck. He was good at what he did. He knew what he was doing. He was born to do it. Any other version is a lie.

He had a light touch. He thought too much of a writer to be heavy-handed. He took to his part in the process with an intent to curate more than to shape or influence. He did not rewrite a section of prose. He would not add so much as a word. Rather, he looked for what was there that was alive in it. He looked for that and lifted it out, matted it and framed it for good measure, so that it could be more easily perceived. The reader might overlook it otherwise, because the reader often is in a hurry.

Really he did not edit a writer so much as direct the reader. You can see that. Read a book he did and imagine instead you’re watching a movie with him, and he touches your shoulder lightly and points at the screen: “Be quiet. You’re gonna miss it.”

Nico Walker is the author of Cherry (Knopf, 2018).



By Brad Phillips

This needs to be the most beautiful thing I’ve ever written, because I’ve never before lost anyone so beautiful.

Or this: when I first met Gian in New York he put me up at the Gatsby Hotel. He said he did this just so he could make fun of me for staying at a place called the Gatsby Hotel.

Gian taught me that the inaugural sentence is everything.

I want to send him this doc when I’m done but I can’t. Someone will edit this, and I’m uncomfortable about it not being Gian. I only trust Gian. Now I have to learn to trust others, to accept their edits, as much as this feels unacceptable.

Gian was first my publisher, then my best friend, then the brother I always wanted, then the man who radically changed my life.

That all happened very suddenly after we met, him forever changing my life. Gian’s death happened very suddenly, also forever changing my life.

I prefer, with violent certainty, the first way he did it.

Every morning I wake up and make coffee, then I open Instagram to watch the half dozen videos Gian sent me after waking up in Italy. I send him another half dozen videos, eat a muffin and some cheese. I know he’ll reply with more videos, along with one post from the Instagram account @fat-men-through-history, because Gian loved (as he wrote so eloquently) big fat men, his romantic ideal. There’ll also be one post from the Thrasher account—“bro check this railslide”—and one from a Stevie Nicks fan page. Stevie Nicks who we bonded over so hard. We both lost it when a slew of unknown demos were uploaded to YouTube. For a while we’d listen to them together, staring at each other on Facetime while Stevie sang “Christian” in a capella, him in his bedroom in Sezze, a Nirvana poster behind him, me in Toronto with nothing behind me. This will go on until I’m done with breakfast. We’ll meet again later in the day, on iMessage or Instagram. We did this for years. This part of my day has been ripped away, subtracted from the clock. Gian’s death has ripped a hole in me, one his presence helped to fill. His loss has subtracted part of me, the worst kind of math. I’d assumed we’d do this for forty more years.

Today I’m still sending him DMs he’ll never see. They’re like astronauts untethered from their ships, floating endlessly into the unknown void, hoping to be found somewhere past time and space.

My relationship with Gian is one of the most reliable parts of my life, lived in a reliably unreliable world.

I’m still mixing up my tenses, past and present. I’ll feel guilty when it stops.

I miss Gian so fucking much.

Because we talked every day and I hadn’t heard from him for two, I woke up on that first of April somehow knowing Gian was gone. Two hours later I was broken in half by a friend’s confirmation. The internet has shown that countless others felt something similar. Gian’s reach and influence can’t be overstated. Neither can his generosity, his sincerity, his teddy-bear-ness, his intellect, his instincts, his inimitability, his taste, his hilariousness, his kindness, his wisdom, his talent, his loyalty, his bravery, and his freedom. (Repeat x 10)

When I first wanted to write something about Gian, my initial thought was, well, Gian’s the only one who can connect me to someone who’d publish it. He was a super-connector. I’ve never known someone who knew everyone, and wanted everyone to know everyone else, with no benefit to himself other than the karmic merit of helping others.

Gian was the rarest flower. My whole life I wanted a nickname. Gian called me “lil camper.”

I miss Gian so fucking much. I’m just getting started.

I’m writing this, with no small difficulty, just one week after his death. Already, so many people, eloquent and hurting, have written beautifully about him, eliciting countless loving and heartbroken comments (a phenomenal amount from strangers, who say Gian dictated their taste in writing, changed their lives with his books, or just lit their smoke, replied to the email they were scared to send—innumerable small gestures). Some have written about his career, his magazine and imprint Tyrant Books, and have testified to just how cool Gian was. I can’t do that. I can’t call Gian “cool” because making fun of each other was the foundation of our friendship, and he’d mock me for calling him cool. Gian told me I wrote best when I wrote about what was personal to me. He’d trust someone else to be biographizing. He’d want me to be personal, so I have to, because, to be honest, I’m writing this for him, not anyone else. But maybe in writing this for him, sharing the still split-open feelings of another forty-seven-year-old man who loves cigarettes and playing dumb, other people will get a glimpse of just who and what he was, and just how very much we’ve all lost.

It’s not hyperbole to say Gian’s death has set literature back for two decades.

My grandmother died at age 101 in late January. I had to deliver the eulogy. I asked Gian for advice. He told me to make it about myself, about my relationship with her. “Make it about yourself,” he said, “but not so much that you sound like a dick.” Gian said he “slayed at eulogies” and had done many. “Just kill it, drop the mic, and walk away.” There’s a lot of pressure in eulogizing someone who claimed to slay at eulogizing.

I want to make him proud. I just wish it weren’t this way.

Years ago I kept this Schopenhauer quote pinned next to my bed to look at if I was feeling sorry for myself:

If you want to earn the gratitude of your own age you must keep in step with it. But if you do that you will produce nothing great. If you have something great in view you must address yourself to posterity: only then, to be sure, you will probably remain unknown to your contemporaries; you will be like a man compelled to spend his life on a desert island and there toiling to erect a memorial so that future seafarers shall know he once existed.

Probably, Schopenhauer said.

Gian, quoted in his own obituary, said: “Tyrant stuff isn’t for everyone, but nothing should be for everyone. Or at least nothing that’s worth anything. You know what’s for everyone? Water. Water is for everyone. And if you’re publishing something for everyone, well, you’re publishing water.”

Both mention water. Gian was the island and the sea, the exception to Schopenhauer’s maxim. He did something great, and people saw it, because he was too big for any island. Gian would make a boat out of Gilligan himself and sail for land.

I met Gian in 2014 or ’15. I’d written a novella about drugs and fucking up. Through unknown channels it ended up in the hands of Lauren Smythe and Sarah Nicole Prickett, who sent Gian my way. I’ll forever be grateful to them both.

Gian called me and we talked. I loved how much he laughed and how sincerely enthusiastic he was. He wanted to publish a book with me, and I should write whatever I wanted. I’d been an artist forever but always wanted to write. His permission to write anything and his promise to publish it felt like unconditional love. The things I wanted to write about made myself and others nervous. They only excited Gian. His excitement and enthusiasm made me feel safe. This last week I feel overprotective of him, likely because he was so protective of me. Gian cared, more than anyone I’ve known, about the art of writing. Sales weren’t his concern. Gian changed my original title to Essays & Fictions, a brilliant decision I hated giving him credit for, because he couldn’t stop talking about what a brilliant decision he’d made.

Gian was my shepherd, my steward. I am two-thirds of the way through the book Gian was meant to publish. Fittingly, it’s mostly about the crippling pain of nostalgia. I’d write to him neurotically, worried it was maybe too long. His answer was always the same. “Write the book the way it needs to be written, and if that’s seven-hundred pages, we’ll print it on onion skin, like the Bible.”

He sent me this text on February 12th:

-Do you think I’m an angel Brad?

-or a messenger

-or Jesus?

-or God?

-one of those.

Gian publicly stated his love for LSD. After a wild trip in Naples months ago he said he’d had a revelation and was now more Italian than ever. Or rather, he was “the most Italian man alive.” When I stupidly challenged him to arm-wrestle me once, he let me push his hand almost to the table then in a nanosecond slammed mine down on the opposite side. I told him it was because of his peasant Umbrian physique, something that he liked. “You hate how Umbrian I am, you’re so jealous of my hulking, Zeus-like body. It’s okay lil camper, I was born like this, I’m sure you’ve got some strengths of your own.”

Despite his love of psychedelics, Gian was genuinely terrified that if he smoked DMT, somehow Joe Rogan would get inside his trip.

I never made it to Naples, where Gian moved with his husband Giuseppe Avallone, while still maintaining his family estate in Sezze. Gian was convinced Naples would be to this decade what Berlin was to the 1920s, and I believe him.

Gian loved Giuseppe so much. I wish I could hug him. Gian would tell me cute things Giu did all the time and talked about him constantly, permanently infatuated. It was so beautiful.

One of the last times we spoke, he told me that some writers and friends were visiting Sezze. He told me one night someone asked Giu—who quietly made the most delicious meals for everyone—if they could help him clean up.

“You could, or you could go enjoy your life,” Giu told them.

Gian laughed so loud telling me this. He was always laughing. He was endless love. He was kindness and loyalty written on the clouds.

In 2018 in New York I had a nervous breakdown. Gian was really busy. I called him and asked if he could come to my hotel, bring me Cokes and watch Seinfeld with me while I lay on his chest. He was at my place in twenty minutes.

So many people have stories like this, I’ve been reading them online.

I have so much more to say, but someone will edit this for length. Gian would say who cares about word count. I have to accept that people do. There’s so much I have to accept now, and it feels so hard.

I hope I did you right here Gian. I miss you so fucking much.

Brad Phillips is the author of Essays and Fictions (Tyrant Books, 2019).