Blake Bailey was at the top of his game, after just finding major success for his 900-page biography of American novelist Philip Roth, when everything came crashing down.
Bailey’s biography of Roth received positive reviews and made it to the New York Times Bestsellers List when out of nowhere, several women claimed in online blogs that the author had groomed them decades earlier when he was an eight-grade English teacher and later having sex with them as adults.
The Washington Post reported that the three accusations were made in the public comment section of a blog called Reluctant Habits, and despite the obscurity of the claims and the lack of any evidence, Bailey’s world collapsed. His literary agent, Story Factory, dropped him, releasing a statement to the Los Angeles Times that read: “Immediately after we learned of the disturbing allegations made against Blake Bailey, The Story Factory terminated its agency representation with Mr. Bailey.”
Bailey’s publisher, W.W. Norton, also dropped its support of the author, releasing a statement to The New York Times.
“These allegations are serious,” the publisher said in a statement. “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.”
Neither company seemed to consider that three allegations made in the comment section of an obscure blog surfacing only now may not be solid.
Bailey denied the allegations through his attorney, Billy Gibbens.
“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,” Gibbens told the Times-Picayune. “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 women claimed for the first time that back in the 1990s, Bailey had been their middle-school teacher and kept in touch with them when they entered high school and years later pursued sexual encounters with them. One woman claimed Bailey raped her when she was 22. A 47-year-old woman also claimed in an email to his publisher that Bailey raped her after a party in 2015. Bailey then sent an email to the woman denying the allegation.
“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, according to the Times. “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.”
Not one shred of evidence has been presented to substantiate these claims, but that doesn’t matter. It is also unlikely that any evidence will be presented, since the damage has already been done and the accusers, the publisher, and the literary agency can walk away feeling like they accomplished something. In the meantime, yet another promising author’s career has been derailed over nothing more than accusations.
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