Scandalous Biographers & their Publishers

OCT 19, 2021 | 6:00 PM TO 7:10 PM



Online Event


October 19, 2021: 6:00 PM-7:10 PM




Leon Levy Center for Biography



When Philip Roth authorized Blake Bailey to write his biography, he told Bailey, “I don’t want you to rehabilitate me. Just make meinteresting.” Last spring, when the biography was published, critics’responses suggested Bailey had succeeded: while some questioned whether his portrayals of Roth’s relationships with women were fair-minded, most lauded the book’s comprehensiveness and verve. All that changed within days when allegations surfaced in the media that Bailey had engaged in sexual misconduct. Amid the resulting scandal, Bailey’s publisher, W.W. Norton, announced it would stop selling the book.
This and other recent literary scandals raise difficult questions for authors, publishers, and readers. Do we have an obligation to consider a writer’s personal conduct when making decisions about whether to publish or buy a book—or do we have an obligation not to? (“Read the book, not the author,” an Amazon reviewer pleads on Bailey’s behalf.) What is the appropriate response to allegations such as the ones raised against Bailey? Has the politicization of our cultural climate gone too far—or not far enough?

Ruth Franklin, the acclaimed biographer of Shirley Jackson, will moderate a roundtable discussion of these issues with Laura Marsh, literary editor of The New Republic; Tim Duggan, executive editor at Holt; Nation magazine columnist Katha Pollitt; and journalist Ian Buruma, a former editor of the New York Review of Books.

Former Leon Levy Fellow Ruth Franklin is a book critic and former editor at The New Republic. Her first biography, Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life (Liveright/W.W. Norton, 2016) won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography and was named a New York Times Notable Book of 2016, a Time magazine top nonfiction book of 2016, and a “best book of 2016” by The Boston Globe, the San Francisco Chronicle, NPR, and others. She is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in biography, a Cullman Fellowship at the New York Public Library, and the Roger Shattuck Prize for Criticism. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Laura Marsh is the literary editor of the New Republic, and co-host of the Politics of Everything podcast.

Tim Duggan is an executive editor at Henry Holt & Company, a division of Macmillan. The authors he has edited include Timothy Snyder, David Wallace-Wells, Michiko Kakutani, Karan Mahajan, Daniel Mendelsohn, William Boyd, Annie Dillard, and Uzodinma Iweala. The books he has edited include winners of the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Women's Prize for Fiction, and many finalists for the National Book Award. 

Katha Pollitt is a poet, essayist and columnist for The Nation. She has written for many magazines and published numerous books, most recently Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights and The Mind-Body Problem (poems). 

Ian Buruma, a regular contributor to and former editor of the New York Review of Books, is the author of, among other works: Behind the MaskGod’s DustPlaying the Game and  Murder in Amsterdam: The Death of Theo van Gogh and the Limits of Tolerance. Buruma has won several prizes for his books, including the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay for Theater of Cruelty: Art, Film and the Shadows of War.

This is an online event. Please register here to participate via Zoom.