Publisher pauses promotion of Blake Bailey’s best-selling Philip Roth biography over sexual assault claims

The Washington Post:

Biographer Blake Bailey appeared destined for a major success following the publication of his 900-page portrait of author Philip Roth earlier this month. The massive tome chronicling the life of an American literary giant had received several glowing reviews in the lead-up to its April 6 launch date and landed on the New York Times Bestsellers List after two weeks of sales.

But on Sunday, three short comments on a culture blog’s scathing review of the biography set off a flurry of allegations that have threatened to derail Bailey’s book launch and possibly upend his career.

The writer lost his literary agent and the support of his publisher in less than a week following multiple allegations of sexual misconduct and assault dating back to his days as a New Orleans middle school teacher in the mid-to-late 1990s. At least three women accused Bailey of grooming them when they were students in his eighth-grade English class and then exploiting that relationship for sex after they became young adults, and two women have accused him of rape.

Bailey has denied the now widely reported allegations through his lawyer and expressed confusion and frustration with his publisher and agent.

“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,” his attorney Billy Gibbens told the Times Picayune/New Orleans Advocate on Tuesday. “It is absurd to suggest that he was grooming students for anticipated encounters as adults many years later. The allegations … are false, hurtful descriptions of conduct between adults. Mr. Bailey has never treated a woman inappropriately and has never forced himself on a woman.”

The celebrated biographer from Oklahoma began his career as an eighth-grade English teacher at Lusher Middle School in New Orleans more than two decades ago. He left teaching to pursue writing, first writing a biography of novelist Richard Yates that became a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Biography in 2004. He won the award for his next biography of writer John Cheever in 2009, which also earned him a spot as a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize.

Bailey, 57, had earned mostly positive feedback on his latest project, but a contrarian critique by the New Republic took Bailey to task for indulging “a laundry list of Roth’s gripes” with his ex-wife and other women in his life. A similarly blistering criticism of Bailey’s portrayal of women in “Philip Roth” published on a blog called Reluctant Habits sparked the new accusations.

The allegations that Bailey had fostered inappropriate relationships with former students first surfaced on Sunday in the comment section of the Reluctant Habits review. The Times-Picayune | New Orleans Advocate reported more detailed accounts from several former students in a report on Tuesday.

The women said Bailey stayed in touch with them after they moved on to high school and later used his position as a mentor to pursue sexual encounters with them after they had turned 18. One of the women alleged that Bailey stayed in touch with her throughout high school and then raped her years later when she was 22, the Times-Picayune reported.

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