Philip Roth Biography Finds a New Publisher

Skyhorse said it would release the paperback and digital versions of the book, which had been taken out of print following sexual assault allegations against its author, Blake Bailey.,


Continue reading the main story

Just three weeks after W.W. Norton dropped its Philip Roth biography, following accusations of sexual assault and misconduct against its author, Blake Bailey, the book has found a new home.

On Monday, Skyhorse Publishing — an independent press that last year released Michael Cohen’s memoir as well as one by Woody Allen that had been dropped by his previous publisher — said that it acquired “Philip Roth: The Biography.” In a news release, it said it would publish the book in paperback on June 15, and would release e-book and audiobook versions “as soon as possible,” likely this week.

Tony Lyons, the president and publisher of Skyhorse, said in an email on Monday that “a biography must be judged by the quality of the writing, the importance of the subject matter, and the value of the scholarship,” and that Mr. Bailey’s book met those standards.

“This is obviously an important and comprehensive book about an author The New Yorker called ‘a literary genius,'” he said, adding, “I’m proud to publish it.”

Norton originally published the biography on April 6, and soon after several women came forward with allegations against Mr. Bailey of sexual assault and inappropriate behavior.

In late April, the The Times-Picayune/New Orleans Advocate and The Los Angeles Times published accusations of sexual misconduct from several former students of Mr. Bailey, who taught middle school English in New Orleans in the 1990s. Two women also told The New York Times that Mr. Bailey had raped them, including as recently as 2015.

In a text message on Monday, Mr. Bailey maintained that the allegations against him are “categorically false and libelous.”

After the allegations became public, Mr. Bailey was dropped by his literary agency, The Story Factory, and Norton halted shipments and promotion of the book. A week later, Norton severed its publishing deal with Mr. Bailey and said it was “permanently putting out of print our editions of ‘Philip Roth: The Biography’ and ‘The Splendid Things We Planned,’ Blake Bailey’s 2014 memoir.” Norton also pulled out of circulation the digital version of the Roth biography and the audio edition, which was produced by Recorded Books.

“Mr. Bailey will be free to seek publication elsewhere if he chooses,” Norton’s president, Julia A. Reidhead, said in an April 27 email to Norton employees.

Norton’s decision raised questions about publishers’ ethical obligations to respond to controversies that extend beyond the contents of the books they publish, and it prompted criticism from some free-speech and authors’ advocacy groups, including PEN America, the Author’s Guild and the National Coalition Against Censorship. “Books must be judged on their content. Many of literature’s celebrated authors led troubled — and troubling — lives,” the National Coalition Against Censorship said in a statement last month. “The reading public must be allowed to make their own decisions about what to read.”

Skyhorse has been willing to court controversy in the past. Last year, after Hachette dropped Mr. Allen’s autobiography, “Apropos of Nothing,” in the wake of an employee walkout, Skyhorse acquired and published it, with a print run of 75,000 copies. The press has also worked with provocative authors like the conspiracy theorist Jim Garrison and the attorney and commentator Alan Dershowitz, a frequent defender of former President Donald J. Trump.

The literary agent Andrew Wylie, who represents the Roth estate, declined to comment on the new edition and whether the estate approved of the book’s rerelease. On the Norton edition, the copyright was jointly held by Mr. Bailey and the Roth estate, an arrangement that some literary scholars and biographers found unusual.

Roth, who died in 2018, approved of Mr. Bailey as his authorized biographer, after casting off others, and gave Mr. Bailey exclusive access to a treasure trove of documents, including unpublished manuscripts and transcripts of interviews with his close friends and associates.

Mr. Bailey said on Monday that his agreement with the Wylie agency, which gave him permission to draw on Roth’s materials, predated his contract with Norton and was still in effect, allowing him to release a new edition of the biography. (The Skyhorse edition uses the same Roth photo on its cover.)

In the wake of the controversy over Mr. Bailey’s behavior and the fate of his book, some literary scholars and biographers have called on the Roth estate to make the author’s personal papers and full archive more widely available to scholars.

Leave a Reply