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Philip Roth biographer ‘groomed underage girls while working as teacher then raped ex-student’

The writer of a critically-acclaimed new biography of novelist Philip Roth has been accused of grooming underage girls while working as a teacher, and raping one when she was a young adult. 

Blake Bailey, 57, has been fired from his literary agency as a result of the claims, which saw two other former students allege that they had consensual sex with him as young adults. Both women allege that their encounters came about as a result of a ‘power imbalance’ with the older man, but Bailey denies all claims of wrongdoing. 

After the allegations against Bailey were made public, the publisher of Roth’s biography announced that it was temporarily pausing the book’s shipping and promotion.

‘These allegations are serious. 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,’ according to a statement provided Wednesday to The Associated Press by W.W. Norton & Company. 

Bailey was accused of grooming students as young as 12 and 13 years old while working at Lusher High School in New Orleans by offering to ‘mentor’ them as writers. 

He is then said to have had sex with them – or attempted to have sex with them – when they were young adults. Bailey is said to have done so while studying Vladimir Nabokov’s 1955 novel Lolita with his students. It tells the story of a middle-aged professor’s infatuation with a 10 year-old girl. 

The most serious allegation came from New Orleans-based writer and journalist Eve Crawford Peyton. She says Bailey raped her when she was in her early 20s.

Another ex-student, Jessie Wightkin Gelini, said Bailey ‘groomed’ her and other girls by giving them nicknames, calling them ‘class pets,’ getting close to them, and touching them.

Blake Bailey, 57, has denied the allegations against him, including that he groomed students as young as 12 and 13 years old by mentoring them as writers before pursuing sexual relations with them when they became adults. Bailey is pictured above in 2013

Gelini, an arts teacher who lives in New Orleans, was a student in an English Honors class that Bailey taught while at Lusher Middle School in the 1999-2000 academic year.

A third former student alleged that Bailey ‘systematically groomed 12- and 13-year-olds.’

‘We cannot deny that he waited until we were no longer his students to cajole, coerce and rape us, and we also cannot deny the deep and lasting betrayal of trust that his actions ignited,’ the anonymous woman alleged in an online blog post.

The allegations were reported by the New Orleans Times-Picayune and the Los Angeles Times.

After the allegations surfaced in the press, Bailey’s literary agency, The Story Factory, announced that it had dropped him as a client.

‘Immediately after we learned of the disturbing allegations made against Blake Bailey, The Story Factory terminated its agency representation with Mr. Bailey,’ the agency told the Los Angeles Times on Monday night.

Bailey’s praised biography of Roth, Philip Roth: The Biography, has been atop The New York Times bestseller list since its controversial release.

Bailey’s attorney, Billy Gibbens, provided a statement to the newspaper which read: ‘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.’

Students at the Lusher Middle School in New Orleans (above) allege that they witnessed Bailey 'groom' girls - or cultivate relationships with them when they were underage so as to lay the groundwork for sexual encounters once they became adults

Students at the Lusher Middle School in New Orleans (above) allege that they witnessed Bailey ‘groom’ girls – or cultivate relationships with them when they were underage so as to lay the groundwork for sexual encounters once they became adults

The statement added: ‘It is absurd to suggest that he was grooming students for anticipated encounters as adults many years later.

‘The allegations in your email are false, hurtful descriptions of conduct between adults.

‘Mr. Bailey has never treated a woman inappropriately and has never forced himself on a woman.’

One woman who spoke to the Times-Picayune on condition of anonymity confronted Bailey via email about a sexual encounter that took place between them.

‘Whatever the rumor mill says, I had sex with no minors or students who were my students at the time,’ Bailey said in the email to the anonymous woman.

‘My behavior was deplorable, but I did nothing illegal.’

In the email, Bailey repeated his denial that he ever had sex with a minor or with one of his then-students.

Bailey also denied raping Peyton. In an email correspondence, he wrote to her: ‘For what it’s worth, you weren’t in 8th grade when the night in question occurred; you were in your 20s and I was in my 30s (just), and for the record I wasn’t attracted to you when you were in 8th grade and have never laid a glove on any student, while she was my student, including college and grad school students.’

Bailey wrote in the email that he was suffering from mental illness at the time the alleged encounter took place.

Story Factory decided to drop Bailey after two women commented on a blog post published by Ed Champion on Friday.

Champion, the author of the Reluctant Habits blog, called Bailey a ‘casual misogynist’ and ‘eager rube’ for his portrayal of Margaret Matkinson, Roth’s first wife.

Bailey (seen above in 2005) has denied allegations from one of his former students, Eve Crawford Peyton, that he raped her when she was in her early 20s

Bailey (seen above in 2005) has denied allegations from one of his former students, Eve Crawford Peyton, that he raped her when she was in her early 20s

He accused Bailey of directing ‘nasty sexism’ toward Matkinson, who became Roth’s first wife in 1959. The couple separated four years later. In 1968, Matkinson died in a car crash.

Matkinson is portrayed by Bailey as a ‘masterful manipulator of men’ who claimed that she was ‘impregnated “by force”,’ according to Champion.

Champion also accused Bailey of ‘casting needless doubt’ on claims that Matkinson was abused by her first husband and that she may have ‘deserved it’ because she had an affair with a mechanic.

In response to the blog post, three women posted comments alleging that Bailey was guilty of sexual misconduct. Two women attached their names to the comments while one was anonymous.

The identity of the two named commenters was confirmed by the Los Angeles Times.

Gibbens, Bailey’s attorney, told the Times: ‘Mr. Bailey flatly denies the false allegations against him posted last weekend on the website of a notorious internet troll.

‘These scurrilous charges are anonymous, they report second-hand allegations from unnamed accusers, and they cannot be taken seriously.

‘We are baffled that the Story Factory would have acted on such unreliable, demonstrably false information without bothering to consult Mr. Bailey, and we are considering all of Mr. Bailey’s legal options related to these defamatory comments.’

Bailey told the Times on Tuesday that he had no comment ‘except to say the allegations are totally false.’

When asked about Bailey, Gelini told the Times: ‘He was gross to me.’

She said that at the time of the alleged incidents, Gelini considered Bailey ‘so old’ to me.

‘He’s still one of the best teachers I ever had, which is so sickening to me,’ said Gelini, who now teaches high school students at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts. 

Bailey is the author of Philip Roth: The Biography, which is a New York Times bestseller

Bailey is the author of Philip Roth: The Biography, which is a New York Times bestseller

‘I realize now as an adult and as a teacher, that the way he spoke to us was part of the grooming.’ 

The most serious allegation to date has been leveled by Peyton. In an open letter that she first shared with the Times, she said Bailey’s behavior was widely discussed.

‘These stories have been whispered about for decades or shared over a glass of wine by former students, who all thought they were the only ones,’ Peyton wrote.

‘His behavior was something of an open secret, and it absolutely followed a pattern and was textbook grooming, but no one ever said anything.

‘Even those of us hurt by him still loved him on some level. He was supposed to be our mentor.

‘In many ways, he was. And then he used our trust in him against us in the cruelest and most intimate way possible.’

She added: ‘To be fair, he never did anything then, not in eighth grade.

‘But he laid the groundwork. With dirty jokes, sly comments, hugs that went on slightly too long, encouraging us to share our personal lives once we moved on to high school (“write to me about your latest slap-and-tickle”).’

Peyton said that when she was 22 years old, she was invited to meet Bailey for a drink.

Afterward, Peyton alleges Bailey invited her to his hotel room. There, Bailey allegedly started to kiss her, causing her to laugh nervously.

Bailey is then alleged to have proceeded to undress her before performing oral sex on her.

Peyton told the Times-Picayune that she moved away because she was engaged to be married and Bailey was already married.

She said Bailey paused for a moment. He then allegedly initiated sexual intercourse and kept going even though Peyton tried to push him away.

‘I was pushing on him really hard – he took my hand, pinned me down on the bed, and he kept having sex with me,’ Peyton said.

She then alleges that Bailey stopped when she told him she wasn’t on birth control.

According to Peyton, Bailey allegedly rolled off and said to her: ‘’What is wrong with you? You just don’t know how the game is played.’

Peyton also alleged that Bailey told her that he wanted her since the eighth grade.

She said she didn’t report Bailey to the police because she struggled to ‘make sense of what happened.’

Peyton told the Times-Picayune that she confided in her fiance and her best friend from high school, but could not bring herself to go to the authorities.

‘I just wanted it to have not happened,’ Peyton said.

One of Peyton’s former classmates told a similar story though she is not accusing Bailey of rape.

When she was 18 or 19, she said she invited Bailey to get cigarettes with her after his bachelor party.

At one point, Bailey allegedly pressed her against a brick wall and started kissing her. He then took her to his house.

Another former student, Amelia Ward, remembers Bailey going out of his way to compliment her and pay attention to her, even asking her to stay after school when there was no apparent reason. 

Soon after her time in his class ended, he pursued a personal relationship, taking her out for coffee and asking her questions about her romantic interests. Ward became uncomfortable and cut off communication.

‘It’s affected me my whole life,’ says Ward, who now lives in Philadelphia. 

‘I trusted him and he totally betrayed my trust.’

A spokesperson for the Lusher school told the AP that the school, where Kathy Reidlinger was the principal in the ’90s, was not aware of any concerns raised about him. 

Some former students, including Sarah Stickney Murphy, disputed that.

‘I cannot believe that Kathy Reidlinger actually said that no one ever complained about Blake Bailey’s behavior when he was teaching at @LusherMiddle. What an astonishing lie,’ she tweeted Tuesday.

Bailey is the author of acclaimed biographies of the authors John Cheever and Richard Yates, and he had been working on the Roth book since 2012. 

Bailey has been accused of being a 'misogynist' in describing Roth's former wives in the biography, which the late novelist authorized. Roth is pictured above in 2008

Bailey has been accused of being a ‘misogynist’ in describing Roth’s former wives in the biography, which the late novelist authorized. Roth is pictured above in 2008

Bailey had unlimited access to Roth’s papers and spent extensive time with the author, who died in 2018. 

The allegations against Bailey come as his book renewed questions about how Roth depicted women in his fiction, from Portnoy’s Complaint to My Life As a Man, and treated them in his private life.

Bailey documented in detail Roth’s two unhappy marriages, including to actor Claire Bloom; his chronic adultery, and most disturbingly, advances he made on a friend of Bloom’s daughter. 

Most critics praised Bailey for a thorough and fair-minded narrative, though some faulted him as too sympathetic.

‘In Bailey, Roth found a biographer who is exceptionally attuned to his grievances and rarely challenges his moral accounting. Yet the result is not a final winning of the argument, as Roth might have hoped,’ wrote Laura Marsh of The New Republic. 

After initiating sex, Bailey allegedly told her he wanted her since they met in school.

The woman said that she then told Bailey: ‘You’re getting married. We have to stop. This is wrong.’

She says the encounter was consensual, but added that Bailey’s interactions with her throughout high school were designed to lead up to that night.

‘It’s the power imbalance that was so wrong to me,’ the woman said.

Another former student, Elisha Diamond, alleges that during her freshman year in college, Bailey invited her to meet him for drinks.

Bailey allegedly insisted that she drink alcohol, but she refused.

During their encounter, Diamond alleged that Bailey asked for details about her sex life, which she shared because she viewed him as a father figure.

According to Diamond, Bailey then ran his hand up her jean skirt, placing it on her bare thigh and pulling her close.

‘I was having none of it,’ Diamond said. She then got up and left.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Phillip Roth could get CANCELED after his biographers posthumously reveal his ‘misogyny and sexual depravity’ 

Novelist Phillip Roth could face getting canceled after his biographers posthumously revealed allegations from his life reflecting misogyny seen in his books.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning author, who died in 2018, was known for penning novels throughout the 20th Century filled with ‘enormous rage and disappointment with womenkind,’ as described by literary scholar Mary Allen in 1976. 

After his death in 2018, critics surmised that that Roth, whose family was Jewish, would face a reckoning for his portrayal of women and Jews in his work and has previously been called anti-Semitic, The Conversation reported. 

Philip Bloom, left, is pictured with ex-wife and actress Claire Bloom- who has previously made her own claims of misogyny in her own memoir

Philip Bloom, left, is pictured with ex-wife and actress Claire Bloom- who has previously made her own claims of misogyny in her own memoir

Novelist Philip Roth is pictured during a ceremony at the White House in 2011

He received the National Humanities Medal from President Barack Obama

Novelist Philip Roth is pictured during a ceremony at the White House in 2011 where he received the National Humanities Medal from President Barack Obama

Now, two separate biographers have claimed revelations of his real life ‘sex and depravity’ could spur a reassessment of work and depictions of women, the Times of London reported.

Ira Nadel, author of Philip Roth: A Counterlife, wrote that he was ‘as sexually obsessed in real life as he was in literature,’ the outlet reported.

Nadel’s biography, set for release on March 29, ‘offers a full account of his development as a writer,’ according to publisher notes on Amazon.

Blake Bailey, for his authorized Philip Roth: The Biography, received independence and complete access from the author himself to spend years pouring over his personal archive and interviewing his friends and lovers.

In his book, Bailey claims Roth visited London brothels and chose female students to attend a seminar based on their attractiveness and flirts with younger women the older he gets, according to the Times of London.

In a visit to London, Roth allegedly went looking for Chinese prostitutes on Curzon Street in Soho.

‘God, I’m fond of adultery,’ said Roth, who had left his wife behind.

Roth was married twice in life. He met Margaret Martinson when he was 23 in 1956 and married her in 1959.

Williams, who was four years older than him, worked as a secretary at the University of Chicago and was the inspiration for some of his female characters.

Williams faked a pregnancy and abortion and the couple separated in 1963, according to The Atlantic

Roth married Bloom in 1990 and the couple divorced in 1994

She later wrote a memoir in which she said he is a man filled with 'a deep and irrepressible rage' toward women

Roth married Bloom in 1990 and the couple divorced in 1994. She later wrote a memoir in which she said he is a man filled with ‘a deep and irrepressible rage’ toward women

She withheld her consent for a divorce and later died in a car crash in Central Park in 1968.

In 1976, Roth began living with English actress Claire Bloom – who starred in A Streetcar Named Desire and nearly 60 other films. Roth married Bloom in 1990 and the couple divorced in 1994.

Bloom later wrote a memoir called Leaving a Doll’s House in which she described him as controlling and claimed scrutinized every decision she made.

She also described him as a self-centered misogynist and wrote that he is a man filled with ‘a deep and irrepressible rage’ toward women.

Bloom claimed also claimed that Roth forced her daughter by a previous marriage, Anna Steiger, to move out of the house because she ‘bored’ him.

Before his death, Roth wrote a ‘point-by-point’ rebuttal of Bloom’s memoir that legally embargoed for several more years before it can be released, the Times of London reported.

‘He could not stop litigating the past. He wanted to control the story from the grave,’ Nadel told the outlet.

Nadel argued that Bloom was viewed by Roth as ‘the quintessential example of his betrayal by women,’ the Times of London reported.

Sandra Newman, an American novelist, told the outlet that another fight over his work is due and that modern audiences will be less forgiving for the misogyny in his life and work.

Roth, whose family was Jewish, has often criticized for 'anti-Semitic' portrayals in his works

Roth, whose family was Jewish, has often criticized for ‘anti-Semitic’ portrayals in his works

‘Looked at from the point of view today, the books are on the wrong side of MeToo. They often have a central male who is a victim of cancel culture,’ she told the outlet.

When asked by the Times of London if he believed Roth would ever get cancelled, Bailey said: ‘You never know these days.’

‘But I think there will always be an audience for Roth’s work in certain quarters, and a non-audience in others,’ he said.

‘I hope my biography helps Roth’s image; though it doesn’t spare his lapses, it does portray him as a rather touching human versus a label of whatever sort.’

After his death, many think pieces were published about Roth and misogyny, including one from The New York Times titled ‘What Philip Roth Didn’t Know About Women Could Fill a Book.’ 

‘Philip Roth is celebrated for bringing my family’s tiny slice of the world into the American pantheon, widening the literary canon to include American Jews. It is hardly news to point out that he accomplished this feat at the expense of Jewish women,’ novelist Dara Horn wrote in the article.

She continued: ‘Roth’s three favorite topics — Jews, women and New Jersey — all remain socially acceptable targets of irrational public mockery, and Roth was a virtuoso at mocking the combination of all three.’

‘Roth, who achieved true greatness in depicting people like himself, never had the imagination to give these women souls,’ she added.

In an article by the Canadian Jewish News, Sarah Horowitz wrote: ‘I confess that I am among those women readers who both admire Roth’s literary greatness and often feel put off by the female characters in his novels.’

‘When I first encountered Roth’s novels as a young reader, I could not read them without feeling as though they were a negative commentary on my own being.’ 

Claire Bloom is pictured with Philip Roth at the 38th Bafta Awards in 1986

A biographer argued Bloom was viewed by Roth as 'the quintessential example of his betrayal by women'

Claire Bloom is pictured with Philip Roth at the 38th Bafta Awards in 1986. A biographer argued Bloom was viewed by Roth as ‘the quintessential example of his betrayal by women’

She added: ‘The Roth misogyny debate opens up a larger question about genius and morality. What do we make of literary genius – really, any kind of genius – that encompasses attitudes we find objectionable, even immoral?’

Carmen Callil, one of the judges on a panel when Roth was up for a Man Booker award, resigned in protest when she learned he would get the prize, Reuters reported at the time.

Mike Witcombe, a Lecturer at Bath Spa University, noted in an op-ed for The Conversation that Roth often writes his feminist critics into his fiction. 

In Roth’s 1990 novel Deception, Roth writes himself in as the protagonist and places the fictional version of himself in a courtroom to defend himself from charges of misogyny. 

‘This is an argument that Roth was inviting his readers to take part in. Many have taken up the challenge,’ Witcombe wrote. 

‘Few scholars would defend scenes such as the one we find in 1974’s My Life as a Man, in which an instance of domestic abuse is described in a manner so laconic that it comes across as indefensibly vicious to many modern readers – including myself.’     


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