Student pulled knife on Roth biographer after threat to rape her

‘Sex pest’ Philip Roth biographer Blake Bailey ‘was threatened with knife by university colleague he groped, harassed stalking victim, and told mentally-ill student that man who had one night stand with her was “lucky”,’ new investigation claims

  • Blake Bailey, 57, has been accused by multiple women of sexual harassment
  • He spent 10 years working on a biography of Philip Roth, who died in 2018 
  • Two women previously accused him rape – something he has vehemently denied
  • On Thursday a Virginia paper published allegations from four more women 
  • One of the four, a professor, said she pulled a knife on him to get him to stop
  • Bailey worked at Old Dominion University in Virginia from 2010-2016
  • The university is accused of not acting to stop Bailey – allegations it denies
  • Bailey’s lawyer has insisted again that his client never acted illegally
  • Bailey was dropped by his publisher in April, but now has a new one 

A celebrated biographer mired in an ongoing sex scandal has now been accused of sexually harassing four other women while working at a university.  

Blake Bailey, 57, was accused of pestering a colleague, two students, and a visiting author while working at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, around a decade ago.

Bailey – handpicked by the late acclaimed novelist Philip Roth to write a biography that has been critically lauded – allegedly groped colleague Bridget Anderson’s crotch while naked in a hot with her during an April 2010 writers retreat for college staff. 

She was in the hot tub with two male colleagues, and all had removed their clothes – as they had done the previous night.

Bailey, uninvited, joined them and sat next to Anderson, who taught alongside him and remains an associate English professor at Old Dominion.

‘Out of the blue, with no warning whatsoever, he grabbed right on my vagina, in one fluid motion,’ she told the paper.

‘I screamed.’

Anderson jumped up, but Bailey grabbed her and pulled her back, The Virginian-Pilot reported. 

Blake Bailey, 57, was accused on Thursday of sexually harassing four women – two of whom he assaulted. In April the acclaimed biographer was accused of raping two women – one in 2015, one in 2003 – accusations that led his publisher to drop his eagerly-awaited Philip Roth book

Philip Roth, who died in 2018 aged 85, hand-picked Bailey to write his autobiography

Bridget Anderson, an associate professor of English at Old Dominion University, taught alongside Bailey from 2010-16. She claimed that he assaulted her, threatened to rape her and harassed her – his behavior only ending when she pulled a knife on him in a mailroom in 2012

‘I had to struggle to get out of his lap,’ she said, with a male colleague – Kevin Moberly – corroborating Anderson’s claim that he had to rescue her from Bailey. 

The following year, at the same retreat, Bailey showed up again – to Anderson’s surprise.

He confronted her, asking why she had told people about the hot tub incident, and told her he would rape her if he could get away with it, she said.

She angrily recited her address and said if he had a suicide wish, he could try and make good on his threat. Bailey, through his lawyer, denied the allegation.

She avoided Bailey the next day and left early.

Maura Hametz, who now heads the history department at James Madison University, recalled Anderson talking about the rape threat.

‘It was disturbing, to put it mildly,’ she told the paper.

Anderson claimed that, in the summer of 2011, Bailey forcibly attempted to kiss her in her office; in November, he attended one of her lectures and harassed her during a question and answer session, she alleges. 

In the spring of 2012, she claims, he repeatedly fondled her leg during a faculty meeting.

Bailey’s book was published on April 6

She said she moved to another seat, yet he followed.

Eventually she got up and left, and he cornered her in the mailroom.

Anderson says she pulled a three-inch knife on Bailey, and held it to his throat, saying: ‘You come any closer, I’m going to hurt you.’ I ‘wanted to scare him,’ she told the Pilot. ‘That was my only goal. And I mean, it worked.’ 

That moment was corroborated by Hametz. Anderson says she told university administrators, but that no action against Bailey was taken. He remained at Old Dominion for another four years. 

A lawyer for the university claimed Anderson went to the beach with Bailey after the hot tub incident, and that she bragged about their encounter after. 

Bailey himself has vehemently denied her claims, and branded Anderson ‘delusional.’   

The scandal-hit biographer was handpicked by Roth – who died in 2018, aged 85 – to write his official biography after meeting with him in 2012.

The book, titled Roth, was published on April 6, was heralded pre-publication as one of the books of the year, receiving rave reviews and widespread media coverage, and immediately rocketed onto the New York Times bestseller list.

Yet since then multiple women have accused him of assault and harassment, with two alleging rape. 

Bailey’s book was dropped by his publisher, W.W. Norton, at the end of April after earlier sex abuse claims emerged – but a new publisher, Skyhorse, has since taken on the book.        

Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia – where Bailey taught from 2010-16. The university has denied that they were alerted to significant misbehavior, although they say they were made aware of his being ‘creepy’

Roth, widely considered a giant of American literature, was awarded the National Humanities Medal in March 2011 by Barack Obama

Bailey has written critically-acclaimed biographies of John Cheever and Richard Yates

Roth on his death was described by The New York Times as ‘the last of the great white males: the triumvirate of writers — Saul Bellow and John Updike were the others — who towered over American letters in the second half of the 20th century’

A second new accuser, Elizabeth Argento, was 23 when she took a graduate student class with Bailey in the spring of 2014.

She told the paper that she was bipolar and a recovering alcoholic, and that Bailey would flatter her and encourage her to write about sex – something she was reluctant to do.

She said she capitulated and wrote about one night stand she had had during mental health crisis, reading her account out in front of class.

‘After class he pulled me aside and he said, “You know, that guy was lucky. He was in the right place at the right time to be with you,” Argento said.

She said she was in Bailey’s office to discuss her thesis when he propped his foot up on the desk, showing off his ‘protruding’ crotch. Argento vowed after that incident to never be alone with him.

‘I was just sitting there, like, this feels wrong,’ she said.

Elizabeth Argento studied in Bailey’s graduate student class in 2014, when she was 23. She described disturbing and inappropriate behavior from her teacher

Bailey’s lawyer said that he remembers their interactions differently, describing it as ‘an entirely positive relationship’.

A second unnamed graduate student recalled Bailey being ‘handsy’ with her at a bar.

‘I saw him getting what we would term as ‘handsy,’ said one student who was there, and witnessed the scene.

‘He was kind of all over her. She got up to leave, he didn’t want to let her leave.’

The graduate student told the paper she was scared, and was also dealing with a stalker at the time.

‘I tried to slip away,’ she said. ‘His grip tightened on my arms.’

She used a self-defense technique, dropping her weight while turning to rip herself from his grip, and ran to the bathroom.

When she opened the door to leave the restroom, she says, Bailey was waiting for her just outside.

‘I was scared, so I told him, ‘You’re making me uncomfortable,’ she told the paper.

Bailey told her he was sorry that she had misinterpreted his behavior.

‘I was upset about what happened and I went and talked to a colleague about it to try to figure out if I should do something,’ she said.

‘I was just afraid of – what if he does this to someone else or worse?’ 

The fourth woman to accuse Bailey from Old Dominion was a visiting non-fiction writer, who recounted an October 2011 incident at a Bailey’s house, when he hosted a party.

Bailey showered her with attention – so much so that she asked two women present, including graduate student Tara Burke, to rescue her.

Tara Burke told the paper that she helped rescue a female visiting writer, who was accosted by Bailey during a party at his house and needed to escape

‘It was fine for a little while,’ Burke told the paper.

‘But Blake’s wife was there and she was very quiet and uncomfortable. And we were just having a very strange experience witnessing it.

‘(The visiting writer) came to us and directly said, “I’m very uncomfortable. This is getting out of hand.”‘

She asked the two to take her back to her hotel, saying she was a little drunk and just needed to be removed from the situation.

‘I wasn’t thinking it was that serious,’ Burke said.

Then Bailey came out of the house and grabbed the visiting writer, playfully but forcefully dragging her down the street with him. She was clearly uncomfortable but, Burke says, was trying to manage the incident without making it worse.

Burke and the other student pulled the writer away from Bailey and got her into a car.

Back at her hotel, the writer, who was married, said that Bailey had forced a kiss on her.

The university say that they would never have hired Bailey if they knew then what they know now.

They also denied that they had ignored complaints in a bid to keep their star hire happy. 

‘Allegations that he was a ‘creep’, yes. Allegations that he was a rapist or serial sexual harasser, no,’ the university’s lawyer, John Brederhoft, said.

Bailey’s lawyer, Billy Gibbens, said in an email that Bailey met in 2012 with a university representative who ‘declined to specify any reported complaint.’

‘Otherwise ODU has never notified Mr Bailey about these allegations, either because they are demonstrably false or because they have been recently fabricated during the open season on Mr Bailey in the press,’ Gibbens said. 

The allegations from Virginia come after two named women gave detailed accounts to other newspapers, spurred on by the praise and adulation Bailey was receiving for the Roth book.

One of his accusers, Valentina Rice, 47, a publishing executive, claimed that he entered her bedroom in 2015, when they were both staying with a mutual acquaintance in New Jersey, and raped her.

The second, Eve Peyton, 40, a former student who now works in publicity at a high school in New Orleans, alleged that he raped her in June 2003 in his hotel room in the Louisiana city, when he was on vacation.

Bailey has vehemently denied both their allegations, calling them ‘categorically false and libelous.’

Several more women, who were students of Bailey’s when he taught in New Orleans, told The Times-Picayune that they too had sexually inappropriate encounters with the celebrated writer.

Bailey was accused of grooming students as young as 12 and 13 years old while working at Lusher High School in New Orleans, 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, which tells the story of a middle-aged professor’s infatuation with a 10 year-old girl.

When 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, he appeared to acknowledge that he was infamous for his behavior.

‘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.’

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