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Philip Roth biographer Blake Bailey dropped by agent over 'grooming' allegations

Blake Bailey, author of a polarizing new biography of writer Philip Roth, was dropped Sunday by his agency, the Story Factory, following allegations of sexual misconduct made in the comments section of a literary blog — allegations Bailey denies.

The writer’s former agency told The Times in a statement Monday night, “Immediately after we learned of the disturbing allegations made against Blake Bailey, The Story Factory terminated its agency representation with Mr. Bailey.”

Three comments were made Sunday on a scathing post published Friday by Reluctant Habits blogger Ed Champion about Bailey’s new book “Philip Roth: The Biography.” Two had names attached; one was anonymous. The Times was able to verify the identity of the two named commenters.

“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,” attorney Billy Gibbens, who is representing Bailey, said in a statement Tuesday.

“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,” Gibbens continued.

Bailey, via email Tuesday, had no comment “except to say the allegations are totally false.”

Talk about Bailey had been brewing in a private Facebook group, according to Jessie Wightkin Gelini, an arts teacher in New Orleans who was in an English Honors class taught by Bailey at the Lusher school in 1999-2000. (Gelini was the first commenter on Champion’s posts.) The group discussion “blew up” Friday, Gelini said, prompting her to comment at the bottom of Champion’s post. She did not read his post, she said, beyond noticing that Champion had called Bailey a “misogynist.”

Gelini told The Times she had witnessed Bailey “grooming” her and other girls, in behavior allegedly including serenading his “class pets,” giving them cutesy nicknames, getting too close to them and touching them. “He was gross to me,” Gelini said, noting that at the time she considered him “so old.”

Champion — who wrote reviews for The Times in the 2000s but was himself publicly reprimanded in 2014 over an alleged pattern of threats and misogynistic writing, has been soliciting additional complaints via social media since Sunday.

Bailey, whose “Philip Roth: The Biography” was published April 6, appears to have contacted Champion on Friday night. “Keep it up, hotshot, and this will go to a million+ people via my agent’s twitter account(s). And that will be the beginning,” he allegedly wrote in a screenshot posted by Champion.

“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.”

“To be fair, he never did anything then, not in eighth grade,” continued Peyton, who is now 40 and has two daughters. “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’).”

Bailey’s previous works include biographies of John Cheever, Richard Yates and Charles Jackson.

“I never thought that a biography of Philip Roth was going to please everybody, and I have not been disappointed,” Bailey told The Times in March, in an interview about his book. “People tend to love him or hate him. And if you are in the latter category ... then I cannot be hard enough on Philip Roth.”

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