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

A biography of the late novelist Philip Roth that was dropped by its original publisher after sexual abuse claims against its author Blake Bailey has found a new home.

Originally released in April in the US by WW Norton, Bailey’s book had been much-heralded: he had been appointed to the role by Roth, having been the biographer of writers including John Cheever and Richard Yates. But that same month, multiple women came forward to allege that Bailey had sexually harassed and abused them when they were in their late teens and early 20s, and that he had spent years grooming them while he was their teacher at Lusher Middle School in New Orleans in the 1990s. A week later, WW Norton pulled the book and cut its ties with the author.

The book remained in print in the UK through Vintage, part of Penguin Random House, after the allegations came to light.

Bailey has denied any wrongdoing. His lawyer condemned WW Norton’s decision as a “kneejerk reaction … based on the false and unsubstantiated allegations against him”.

The publisher said at the time that it would donate the amount of Bailey’s book advance to “organisations that fight against sexual assault or harassment and work to protect survivors”, and that “Mr Bailey will be free to seek publication elsewhere if he chooses”.

Now Skyhorse Publishing has picked up the book, and will release it in paperback on 15 June and as an ebook and audiobook this week. The independent press is also the home of Woody Allen’s memoir Apropos of Nothing, which was dropped by Hachette after protests from employees, as well as titles from Alan Dershowitz, Michael Cohen and Roger Stone.

Skyhorse would not comment further on its latest deal, but president Tony Lyons told Vanity Fair last year, after picking up Cohen’s title: “The fact is that fewer and fewer publishers are willing to take on the tough books.”

Norton’s decision to drop Bailey’s book had been criticised by some free speech organisations. The National Coalition Against Censorship said: “While a writer’s own biography can certainly impact our interpretation and analysis of their work, the reading public must be allowed to make their own decisions about what to read.” PEN America said that it was “concerned about a precedent whereby even egregious misdeeds by an author result in a book being withdrawn, and potentially taken off limits for readers”. And in their announcement of the acquisition, Skyhorse quoted the Authors Guild: “The answer to suppression of expression and ideas isn’t greater or responsive suppression, but greater public debate, which is silenced when a publisher prevents readers from reading a book and forming their opinions. A book is larger than its author; it is an addition to the often contentious public record for posterity.”


Alison Flood

The GuardianTramp

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