Norton Takes Philip Roth Biography Out of Print
The publisher also said it would make a donation to sexual abuse organizations equal to the advance it paid Blake Bailey, the author accused of sexual assault.,
W.W. Norton said in a memo to its staff on Tuesday that it will permanently take Blake Bailey’s biography of Philip Roth out of print, following allegations that Mr. Bailey sexually assaulted multiple women and behaved inappropriately toward his students when he was an eighth grade English teacher.
The announcement came after the publisher decided last week that it would stop shipping and promoting the title, which it released earlier in April. It wasn’t immediately clear what would happen with existing copies of the book or the digital and audio versions.
“Norton is permanently putting out of print our editions of ‘Philip Roth: The Biography’ and ‘The Splendid Things We Planned,’ Blake Bailey’s 2014 memoir. Mr. Bailey will be free to seek publication elsewhere if he chooses,” the email said, which was signed by Norton’s president, Julia A. Reidhead. A copy of the email was reviewed by The New York Times.
Ms. Reidhead also said that Norton would make a donation in the amount of the advance it paid to Mr. Bailey, who received a mid-six-figure book deal, to organizations that support sexual assault survivors and victims of sexual harassment.
Norton’s decision to take Mr. Bailey’s titles out of print marked an extraordinary response to the allegations against the author and raised questions about publishers’ ethical obligations to respond to controversies that extend beyond the contents of the books they publish.
“As a publisher, Norton gives its authors a powerful platform in the civic space. With that power comes the responsibility to balance our commitment to our authors, our recognition of our public role, and our knowledge of our nation’s historic failure to adequately listen to and respect the voices of women and diverse groups,” Ms. Reidhead wrote.
Until the allegations surfaced against Mr. Bailey, Norton was heavily invested in “Philip Roth: The Biography,” which it printed 50,000 copies of and was heavily promoting. Although some literary critics were skeptical of Mr. Bailey’s book, the biography also drew coverage and praise from some corners.
Then, former students of Mr. Bailey’s came forward with accusations that he had behaved inappropriately and groomed them for later sexual encounters. Several women accused him of sexual assault, including Valentina Rice, a 47-year-old publishing executive.
In 2018, Ms. Rice wrote anonymously to Ms. Reidhead, the president of Norton, to report that Mr. Bailey assaulted her several years earlier. (She also emailed a New York Times reporter, who responded, but Ms. Rice did not reply after deciding not to pursue it further.) Mr. Bailey later contacted Ms. Rice and denied the allegations, saying that his publisher forwarded the complaint.
In her email to staff on Tuesday, Ms. Reidhead acknowledged that Norton could have done more to look into the allegations. “As a publishing company we are limited in our investigative abilities,” she wrote, “but we recognize that there may be situations, such as allegations of potentially criminal conduct, where we should actively consider bringing in outside assistance.”
In an email to the Times last week, Mr. Bailey denied the allegations, calling them “categorically false and libelous.” A lawyer for Mr. Bailey, Billy Gibbens, called Norton’s response to the allegations “troubling and unwarranted.”
In an email on Tuesday, Mr. Gibbens added: “Norton made the drastic, unilateral decision to take Mr. Bailey’s books out of print, based on the false and unsubstantiated allegations against him, without undertaking any investigation or offering Mr. Bailey the opportunity to refute the allegations.”
Norton did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.
Since the #MeToo movement began, publishers have canceled contracts with a number of authors who have faced charges of sexual harassment and assault. In 2018, Simon and Schuster canceled a forthcoming book on the 2016 election by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, authors of the best seller “Game Change,” after Mr. Halperin was accused of sexually harassing women at ABC News, where he once directed political coverage.
And in March 2020, Hachette Book Group dropped a forthcoming memoir by Woody Allen amid a wave of criticism, including a walkout by employees, who cited the longstanding accusations that Mr. Allen had molested his adopted stepdaughter Dylan. (Both Mr. Allen and Mr. Halperin later found other publishers.)
Pulling books that have already been published is less common, and even Norton’s initial “pause” last week drew concern from free expression groups. In a statement last week, the National Coalition Against Censorship said books must be judged “on their content.”
“While a writer’s own biography can certainly impact our interpretation and analysis of their work, the reading public must be allowed to make their own decisions about what to read,” the group said.