Publisher pauses Philip Roth biography promotion after author accused of sexual assault

·4 min read

A publisher has paused its support for a new book about novelist Philip Roth after its author, Blake Bailey, was accused of rape and sexual misconduct by multiple women.

“These allegations are serious. In light of them, we have decided to pause the shipping and promotion of ‘Philip Roth: The Biography’ pending any further information that may emerge,” W.W. Norton & Company said in a statement to NBC News on Thursday.

The 912-page portrait of Roth, an American literary giant, landed on The New York Times bestseller list after it received glowing reviews prior to its publication on April 6. But about two weeks after the Roth biography was published, allegations surfaced that Bailey had groomed and manipulated several women, with some dating back to his days as a middle school teacher in New Orleans in the 1990s, The Times-Picayune | New Orleans Advocate first reported.

Backlash was swift, as the writer was dropped from his literary agency, the Story Factory, and lost the support of his publisher, The Los Angeles Times reported.

Bailey did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday. Billy Gibbens, Bailey's lawyer, said in a statement that his client "denies the allegations that have been made against him and disagrees with his publisher's decision to pause distribution of his book."

Bailey's celebrated works include biographies of writers John Cheever, Richard Yates and Charles Jackson. The literary biographer received a Guggenheim Fellowship to work on his biography of Cheever, which later won the National Book Critics Circle Award in Biography in 2009.

Bailey, who spent extensive amounts of time with Roth, began working on his biography in 2012, according to The Associated Press. Roth died of congestive heart failure in 2018.

His newest book on Roth received mostly positive reception from critics, but one negative review published on a blog called Reluctant Habits said the book was "drenched in casual misogyny." The blog post prompted several allegations of grooming and sexually inappropriate behavior against Bailey when he taught English to 8th graders at the Lusher Middle School in New Orleans in the mid-to-late 1990s, the Times-Picayune reported. The principal of Lusher at the time, Kathy Riedlinger, told the newspaper through a spokesperson that she was not aware of any complaints of inappropriate behavior against Bailey while he was a teacher at the school.

According to the newspaper, at least three of Bailey's former female students described inappropriate sexual encounters, with one accusing him of raping her when she was 22 years old after he stayed in touch with her throughout high school. The women allege he flirted with them, invited them to discuss their personal lives while in high school and assigned them to read "Lolita" — a novel that focused on a literature professor who kidnapped and repeatedly raped a 12-year-old girl, the Times-Picayune reported.

Bailey, 57, was accused of rape by a second woman who alleged that he sexually assaulted her at a mutual friend's home in 2015, The New York Times reported on Wednesday. The 47-year-old woman, who works in the publishing industry, sent an email about the incident to Bailey's publisher, Norton, whom the woman said did not respond to her email, the Times reported.

Instead, the woman received an email from Bailey, according to The Times, which read, in part: “I can assure you I have never had non-consensual sex of any kind, with anybody, ever, and if it comes to a point I shall vigorously defend my reputation and livelihood.”

“Meanwhile, I appeal to your decency: I have a wife and young daughter who adore and depend on me, and such a rumor, even untrue, would destroy them,” he allegedly wrote in the email.

Norton did not immediately respond to a request for further comment about the allegation that they did not respond to the woman’s email.

A Norton spokesperson told The Times that they "took this allegation very seriously."

"We were aware that the allegation was also sent to two people at Mr. Bailey’s former employer and to a reporter at The New York Times, a news organization that was well equipped to look into it,” the spokesperson said. “We did take steps, including asking Mr. Bailey about the allegations, which he categorically denied, and we were mindful of the sender’s request for a guarantee of anonymity.”

Writer Mary Karr, who provided a blurb for Bailey's newest book, distanced herself from the biographer.

“Having just done an event with Blake Bailey to discuss the bio of my old friend Roth, I wake to find Bailey credibly accused by three of his former eighth-grade students of grooming them for sex when they turned eighteen," she tweeted on Wednesday. "I support any brave young woman speaking out.”