Publisher halts Philip Roth book amid sexual abuse claims against biographer

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. His UK publisher, Penguin Random House, has been contacted for comment.

Bailey was a middle school teacher at Lusher 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 previous 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 that 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.

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