But on Sunday, three short comments on a culture blog’s scathing review of the biography set off a flurry of allegations that have now 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.”
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.
The New York Times reported a second rape allegation against Bailey on Wednesday. A 47-year-old woman who works in the publishing industry told the Times that Bailey raped her after a party at the home of a mutual acquaintance in 2015. After the woman informed Bailey’s publisher about the incident, he sent her an email denying the allegation, the Times reported.
“I can assure you I have never had non-consensual sex of any kind, with anybody, ever, and if it comes to a point I shall vigorously defend my reputation and livelihood,” Bailey wrote in the email sent to the women, the Times reported. “Meanwhile, I appeal to your decency: I have a wife and young daughter who adore and depend on me, and such a rumor, even untrue, would destroy them.”
“Immediately after we learned of the disturbing allegations made against Blake Bailey, The Story Factory terminated its agency representation with Mr. Bailey,” the agency said in a statement to the Times.
On Wednesday, Bailey’s publisher W.W. Norton announced that it had taken the rare step of putting a shipment of “Philip Roth” copies on hold and said it would pause promotion of the book.
“These allegations are serious,” a spokesperson for W.W. Norton said in a statement, the New York Times reported. “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.”