Publisher halts Philip Roth book amid sexual abuse claims against biographer

WW Norton to pause shipping Blake Bailey’s authorised biography as women claim Bailey groomed them as their high-school teacher

The publisher of a new, bestselling Philip Roth biography has temporarily halted the book’s shipping and promotion as its author, Blake Bailey, faces multiple allegations of sexual harassment and abuse from women who were once his high-school students.

“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,” Bailey’s US publisher WW Norton said in a statement to the Associated Press on Wednesday.

On Thursday, Bailey’s UK publisher Vintage, part of Penguin Random House, confirmed that it would continue to publish the book.

“These are extremely serious and concerning allegations made against Blake Bailey. At this stage they are allegations, and we continue to publish Philip Roth: The Biography,” the Vintage spokesperson said. “We are assessing the situation closely.”

Bailey was a teacher at Lusher Middle School in New Orleans in the 1990s. Numerous former students have recently alleged inappropriate and manipulative behavior by Bailey while he was their teacher, claiming that he “groomed” them, then pursued sexual relationships with them soon after they graduated. One former student, Eve Crawford Peyton, also accused him of raping her when she was 22, in an interview with the Times Picayune/New Orleans Advocate.

In a letter quoted by the LA Times, Peyton wrote: “These stories have been whispered about for decades or shared over a glass of wine by former students, who all thought they were the only ones. His behavior was something of an open secret, and it absolutely followed a pattern and was textbook grooming, but no one ever said anything … To be fair, he never did anything then, not in eighth grade. But he laid the groundwork. With dirty jokes, sly comments, hugs that went on slightly too long, encouraging us to share our personal lives once we moved on to high school (‘Write to me about your latest slap-and-tickle’).”

Bailey, whose works include biographies of John Cheever, Richard Yates and Charles Jackson, has denied all wrongdoing. In response to the allegations made on record by four former students, including Peyton, his lawyer told the Times Picayune/New Orleans Advocate: “Mr Bailey has never acted inappropriately with any student and has never received any complaints about his time at Lusher more than 20 years ago … It is absurd to suggest that he was grooming students for anticipated encounters as adults many years later. The allegations in your email are false, hurtful descriptions of conduct between adults. Mr Bailey has never treated a woman inappropriately and has never forced himself on a woman.”

A spokesperson for Lusher confirmed that Bailey was not the subject of any complaints of inappropriate behavior while he taught at the school, for about nine years beginning in 1992.

On Tuesday, it was revealed that Bailey had been dropped by his literary agency, the Story Factory. The agency told the LA Times it had terminated the relationship “immediately after we learned of the disturbing allegations”.

Bailey’s book, released in early April, was among the most anticipated literary biographies in recent years and has appeared on the bestseller lists. Much of the review coverage has focused on, in the words of Bailey, Roth’s “breathtaking tastelessness towards women”.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

  • This story was updated on 22 April 2021, to include the response from Vintage.

Contributor

Sian Cain and agencies

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Cancelled Philip Roth biography picked up by new publisher amid abuse allegations
Blake Bailey’s life of Roth to be republished by Skyhorse Publishing, home to Woody Allen and Roger Stone, next month

Alison Flood

17, May, 2021 @3:18 PM

Article image
Philip Roth, Blake Bailey and publishing in the post-#MeToo era
WW Norton withdrew Bailey’s Roth biography after a series of allegations about its author. As generational conflict rages in the book world, who decides whether we can separate the art from the artist?

Andrew Anthony

27, Jun, 2021 @8:00 AM

Article image
Penguin Random House defends Zhivago novel against plagiarism claim
Boris Pasternak’s great-niece Anna claims Lara Prescott’s The Secrets We Kept copied her biography of Pasternak’s lover

Alison Flood

01, Oct, 2019 @3:39 PM

Article image
Penguin stops printing Pedro Baños book after antisemitism claims
Investigation led by Julia Neuberger finds Spanish edition of How They Rule the World has ‘echoes of Jewish conspiracy theories’

Alison Flood

27, Jun, 2019 @1:01 PM

Article image
Penguin orders independent review of book over antisemitism claims
Julia Neuberger to analyse Pedro Baños’s How They Rule the World, which includes passages about the Rothschild family

Alison Flood

17, Jun, 2019 @12:44 PM

Article image
Publisher defends diversity drive after Lionel Shriver's attack
Penguin Random House has responded to the novelist’s criticisms, saying it aims to ‘reflect the society in which we live’

Alison Flood

11, Jun, 2018 @11:39 AM

Article image
A master of self-promotion: letters reveal how Philip Roth ‘hustled’ for prizes
Correspondence found in archives shows how ‘pushy’ novelist used ‘collusion, networking and back-scratching’ to win literary awards

Dalya Alberge

29, Aug, 2021 @8:45 AM

Article image
Book sales boom but authors report shrinking incomes
Calls for writers to reap rewards as British publishers enjoy record-breaking year

Danuta Kean

18, Jul, 2018 @11:01 PM

Article image
Philip Roth: Portnoy's Complaint and American Pastoral author dies at 85
Chronicler of American politics, Jewishness and male sexual desire was widely regarded as one of greatest novelists of the 20th century

Richard Lea

23, May, 2018 @9:57 AM

Article image
Philip Roth predicts novel will be minority cult within 25 years
'The book can't compete with the screen,' says veteran American author as his latest novel is published

Alison Flood

26, Oct, 2009 @3:07 PM