Blake Bailey, author of “Philip Roth: The Biography,” has been hit with a second accusation of sexual assault after multiple women came forward earlier this week with allegations of misconduct going back to the writer’s days as a teacher in Louisiana.
Publishing executive Valentina Rice told the New York Times in a story published Wednesday that Bailey raped her in 2015 while they were both houseguests of Dwight Garner, a book critic for the New York Times. Rice said she told Bailey “no” and “stop” after he came in her room that night and started to have nonconsensual sex with her.
Rice said she emailed the president of W.W. Norton, publisher of the Roth biography, under a pseudonym to relay the encounter as the #MeToo movement gathered steam in 2018. She said she received no response from Norton, but heard from Bailey a week later, the N.Y. Times reported.
In the email to Rice, Bailey strongly denied the allegation of nonconsensual sex and added, “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,” according to the N.Y. Times.
A Norton spokeswoman told the news outlet it had taken the allegations seriously and asked Bailey about them.
The writer has consistently denied all allegations, both via email and in statements from his attorney, Billy Gibbens.
W.W. Norton hit pause Wednesday on promoting or shipping additional copies of the Roth book, which was released April 6 and debuted at No. 12 on the April 25 New York Times hardcover nonfiction bestseller list and No. 8 on the Los Angeles Times nonfiction list. Late Monday, literary agency the Story Factory announced it had dropped the 57-year-old writer as a client.
Bailey called the new allegations “categorically false and libelous” in an email to the New York Times. He had called earlier allegations published in the Los Angeles Times “totally false.”
Previously, several women who were students of Bailey’s when he taught eighth grade English honors at the Lusher Charter School in New Orleans accused him of “grooming” them before making sexual advances on some of them once they were of age.
Eve Peyton, who was a student in Bailey’s first Lusher class, alleged to the N.Y. Times that he raped her after they met for drinks when she was a graduate student in 2003. She also alleged that Bailey told her that night that he had “wanted her” since meeting her at age 12.
The New Orleans Advocate/Times-Picayune reported Tuesday that Bailey sent Peyton an email last year that read, “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.”
Peyton and an unnamed classmate both told the New Orleans outlet that when they were younger, Bailey checked in on their love lives and asked frequently about their virginity, saying, “Have you punched your V-card yet?”
Jessie Wightkin Gelini, an arts teacher in New Orleans who was in Bailey’s Lusher class in 1999-2000, told this paper that Bailey serenaded his “class pets,” gave them cutesy nicknames, got too close to them and touched them. All of his students had to keep a personal journal for the class and were encouraged to include intimate details.
“He was gross to me,” Gelini said Tuesday to the L.A. Times, noting that at the time she considered Bailey “so old.”
In response to the specific accusations, Gibbens wrote Tuesday to the L.A. Times, “The allegations by Ms. Peyton and Ms. Gelini are not true.”
“His behavior was something of an open secret, and it absolutely followed a pattern and was textbook grooming, but no one ever said anything,” Peyton said about Bailey in a letter reviewed by the L.A. Times. “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.”