Publisher pauses publication of new Philip Roth biography amid sexual misconduct allegations

The publisher of a new, best-selling biography about Philip Roth has temporarily halted shipping and promotion of the book as the author, Blake Bailey, faces multiple allegations of sexual harassment and abuse.

“These allegations are serious. In light of that, we have decided to pause the transmission and promotion of ‘Philip Roth: The Biography’ pending further information that may emerge,” said a statement Wednesday by WW Norton to The Associated. Press is provided. & Company.

Existing copies remain widely available, including on, where the 800-page book was on the 812 bestseller list as of Wednesday afternoon.

Bailey, who has denied any wrongdoing, has already been dropped by his literary agency, the Story Factory. Bailey was an 8th grade English teacher at Lusher Middle School in New Orleans in the 1990s and numerous former students have recently spoken out about inappropriate and manipulative behavior, saying that he later pursued sexual relationships.


Bailey’s book, released in early April, was among the most anticipated and highly promoted literary biographies of recent years and has appeared on the bestseller list of The New York Times and other outlets. But as of last weekend, on Reluctant Habits blogger Ed Champion’s Twitter feed and website, and on to social media and in the press, former students have been sharing stories, some of which said his behavior still haunts them.

Jessie Wightkin-Gelini, who took Bailey’s class in the late 1990s, told The Associated Press that he was a charismatic teacher with a knack for making students – especially female ones – feel special and understood. But she also recalled troubling behavior – whether she hugged her “for too long” or touched her on the lower back. A class assignment can be an essay about the student’s first kiss.

The publisher of a new, best-selling biography on Philip Roth has temporarily halted shipping and promotion of the book as its author, Blake Bailey (right), faces multiple allegations of sexual harassment and abuse. (AP / Getty)

“He’s still one of the best teachers I’ve ever had, and I think that’s so sick,” said Wightkin-Gelini, who now teaches high school students at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts. “I now realize as an adult and as a teacher that the way he spoke to us was part of the grooming.”

Another former college student, Amelia Ward, recalls that Bailey did his best to compliment and pay attention to her, even asking her to stay after school when there was no apparent reason. Shortly after her time in his class was up, he pursued a personal relationship, took her out for coffee, and asked her questions about her romantic interests. Ward felt uncomfortable and cut off communication.

“It has affected me all my life,” said Ward, who now lives in Philadelphia. “I trusted him and he totally violated my trust.”

A Lusher school spokesperson told the AP that the school, where Kathy Reidlinger was the principal in the 1990s, was unaware of any concerns about him. Some former students, including Sarah Stickney Murphy, disputed that.


“I can’t believe Kathy Reidlinger actually said no one ever complained about Blake Bailey’s behavior when he was teaching on @LusherMiddle. What an amazing lie,” she tweeted Tuesday.

Bailey, 57, is the author of acclaimed biographies of authors John Cheever and Richard Yates, and has been working on the Roth book since 2012. Bailey had unrestricted access to Roth’s papers and spent a lot of time with the author, who died in 2018.He had given numerous promotional interviews for the book, including The Associated Press, and recently spoke with author Mary Karr, a friend of his. Roth who created a blurb calling Bailey ‘our most outstanding literary biographer’.

On Wednesday, she tweeted, “After just doing an event with Blake Bailey to discuss my old friend Roth’s biography, I wake up to see Bailey being credibly accused by three of his former eighth grade of grooming them for sex when they turned 18. I support every brave young woman who speaks out. “

The allegations against Bailey come as his book raises new questions about how Roth depicted women in his fiction, from “Portnoy’s Complaint” to “My Life As a Man,” and dealt with them in his private life. Bailey documented in detail Roth’s two unfortunate marriages, including with actor Claire Bloom; his chronic adultery and advances he made on a friend of Bloom’s daughter. Roth also taught an occasional university course and was fond of looking back at a time when “you weren’t dragged to feminist prison when you made a tender friendship with the smartest, prettiest girl in your class.”

Most critics praised Bailey for a thorough and honest story, although some considered him too likable.


“In Bailey, Roth found a biographer who is exceptionally well attuned to his grievances and rarely disputes his moral responsibility. Yet the result is not a definitive victory of the argument, as Roth may have hoped,” wrote Laura Marsh of The New Republic.