Publisher pulls Philip Roth bio, cuts ties with author

This cover image released by W.W. Norton shows "Philip Roth: The Biography," by Blake Bailey. (W.W. Norton via AP)
This cover image released by W.W. Norton shows "Philip Roth: The Biography," by Blake Bailey. (W.W. Norton via AP)

NEW YORK – The publisher of a highly anticipated and widely discussed biography of Philip Roth is pulling the book and cutting ties with author Blake Bailey, who faces multiple allegations of sexual harassment and assault. W.W. Norton and Company previously released Bailey's memoir “The Splendid Things We Planned.”

“Norton is permanently putting out of print our editions of ‘Philip Roth: The Biography’ and ‘The Splendid Things We Planned,’ Blake Bailey’s 2014 memoir,” the publisher announced Tuesday. “Mr. Bailey will be free to seek publication elsewhere if he chooses. In addition, Norton will make a donation in the amount of the book advance for ‘Philip Roth: The Biography’ to organizations that fight against sexual assault or harassment and work to protect survivors.”

The stunning decision follows reports last week from The New York Times, The New Orleans Times-Picayune and The Associated Press among others that Bailey, who in the 1990s taught eighth grade English in New Orleans, had behaved inappropriately with students and later sought sexual relationships. Two former students and a publishing executive have alleged that he assaulted them. Bailey was quickly dropped by his literary agency, the Story Factory, and Norton announced last week it would pause publication and publicity as it reviewed allegations.

Norton has acknowledged being contacted, anonymously, by a woman in 2018 who alleged that Bailey had assaulted her three years earlier. The publisher never responded directly to the email, sent by Bloomsbury sales and marketing vice president Valentina Rice, and instead forwarded it to Bailey. Rice first went public with her allegations last week in The New York Times and confirmed her account with the AP.

The alleged assault took place at the home of Times book critic Dwight Garner, who was informed by Rice soon after it happened and, at Rice's request, did not until recently tell anyone at the paper. The Times had covered Bailey's book extensively, including a long profile of Bailey that ran in its Sunday magazine. Garner did not review the Roth biography.

“Our critic acted appropriately and ethically by honoring the wishes of his friend, Ms. Rice, who confided in him in 2015 and asked him not to share the allegation," a Times spokesperson told the AP. "And it was at Ms. Rice’s request that Dwight spoke with The Times.”

Bailey, whose Roth book came out in early April, has denied any wrongdoing. His attorney, Billy Gibbens, condemned Norton, while noting that “Philip Roth” is still being sold overseas.

“Norton made the drastic, unilateral decision to take Mr. Bailey’s books out of print, based on the false and unsubstantiated allegations against him, without undertaking any investigation or offering Mr. Bailey the opportunity to refute the allegations,” he said in a statement emailed to The Associated Press. “Mr. Bailey’s European publishers wisely have not taken such a rash course of action, and Norton’s knee-jerk reaction is troubling and unwarranted.”