Publisher Drops Woody Allen's Book After Ronan Farrow Objects, Employees Walk Out

Mar 5, 2020
Originally published on March 6, 2020 7:24 pm

Updated Friday at 6:23 p.m. ET

On Friday afternoon, Hachette Book Group announced publicly and to its employees that it will not publish Woody Allen's memoir, Apropos of Nothing, as planned next month.

In a statement to NPR, the publisher said: "Hachette Book Group has decided that it will not publish Woody Allen's memoir A Propos of Nothing, originally scheduled for sale in April 2020, and will return all rights to the author."

"The decision to cancel Mr. Allen's book was a difficult one. At HBG we take our relationships with authors very seriously, and do not cancel books lightly. We have published and will continue to publish many challenging books. As publishers, we make sure every day in our work that different voices and conflicting points of views can be heard."

"Also, as a company, we are committed to offering a stimulating, supportive and open work environment for all our staff. Over the past few days, HBG leadership had extensive conversations with our staff and others. After listening, we came to the conclusion that moving forward with publication would not be feasible for HBG."

The decision was announced to HBG's employees as well at a brief town-hall meeting on Friday afternoon.

On Thursday afternoon, dozens of employees of the publishing imprints Grand Central Publishing and Little, Brown staged a walkout in both New York and Boston to protest Grand Central's decision to publish Allen's book.

Both imprints are owned by Hachette Book Group, the same house that published journalist Ronan Farrow's Catch and Kill. The walkout comes after Farrow announced on Tuesday that he felt he could no longer work with HBG after the Allen acquisition.

On Friday evening, Farrow tweeted of the decision: "Grateful to all the Hachette employees who spoke up and to the company for listening."

Farrow is Allen's son with actress Mia Farrow; his sister, Dylan Farrow, has accused Allen of having sexually abused her as a child. Allen has long denied her allegations.

In his statement, Farrow wrote in part that HBG "concealed the decision from me and its own employees while we were working on Catch and Kill — a book about how powerful men, including Woody Allen, avoid accountability for sexual abuse."

Dylan Farrow also released a statement on Monday evening, in which she said in part: "Hachette's publishing of Woody Allen's memoir is deeply upsetting to me personally and an utter betrayal of my brother whose brave reporting, capitalized on by Hachette, gave voice to numerous survivors of sexual assault by powerful men. ... This provides yet another example of the profound privilege that power, money and notoriety affords. Hachette's complicity in this should be called out for what it is and they should have to answer for it."

Employees at both HBG's New York and Boston offices participated in Thursday's walkout. Many also sent out an auto-reply email that read in part: "We stand in solidarity with Ronan Farrow, Dylan Farrow and survivors of sexual assault." Those include Little, Brown executive editor Vanessa Mobley, who was the editor of Catch and Kill.

In a statement sent to NPR Thursday afternoon, HBG CEO Michael Pietsch said: "We respect and understand the perspective of our employees who have decided to express their concern over the publication of this book. We will engage our staff in a fuller discussion about this at the earliest opportunity."

NPR reached out for comment to Allen's agent, who did not respond as of publication time.

The New York Post reported that HBG employees approached the company's human resources department on Thursday afternoon to complain about the planned publication of Allen's book. A Hachette employee told NPR that Pietsch attempted to hold a town hall meeting on Thursday to discuss the issue, but the employees walked out before the meeting was held.

Farrow's agent, Lynn Nesbit, told NPR on Thursday, "I feel moved almost to tears by the walkout. It was such a brave gesture to management who, in my opinion, made such a misguided decision."

Signing Allen, she said, was "a betrayal of Ronan, of the women in his book, of the issues in the book and of the staff of this publisher." She added that Farrow is "grateful for the support of his colleagues at Little, Brown."

Last year, The New York Times reported that Allen had tried to sell the memoir to several major publishing houses, "only to be met with indifference or hard passes"; one source told NPR on Thursday afternoon that the title had been considered "radioactive" in the publishing world.

Farrow also said in his Tuesday statement that HBG had not fact-checked Allen's memoir nor did it contact Dylan Farrow for any response. "It also shows a lack of ethics and compassion for victims of sexual abuse, regardless of any personal connection or breach of trust here. ... I've also told Hachette that a publisher that would conduct itself in this way is one I can't work with in good conscience."

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The book publisher Hachette said this afternoon that it will not publish a memoir written by filmmaker Woody Allen. This after dozens of Hachette employees walked out of their jobs yesterday to protest the book. Another of the publisher's authors is Allen's estranged son Ronan Farrow, whose book "Catch And Kill" is about alleged sexual predators, including Woody Allen. Joining us to talk about this is NPR's Anastasia Tsioulcas. And this story has moved a lot even just this afternoon, right? I mean, can you tell us what's going on?

ANASTASIA TSIOULCAS, BYLINE: Totally, Audie. Well, this afternoon about 3 p.m. here in New York, the publisher Hachette Book Group announced it had decided to cancel the publication of Allen's memoir. They said to NPR in a statement, quote - as part of a statement - "the decision to cancel Mr. Allen's book was a difficult one. At HBG, we take our relationships with authors very seriously and do not cancel books lightly," unquote.

CORNISH: Of course, with a walkout, there was a lot of pressure to make some kind of call on this.

TSIOULCAS: That's totally true. The employees came from a number of different publishing imprints (ph) that Hachette owns. One of them is Little Brown, which published Ronan Farrow's book last fall. And another was Grand Central Publishing, which was scheduled to publish this memoir next month.

CORNISH: We mention that Allen's son Ronan Farrow - that they are estranged, obviously. But can you talk about why Farrow came out against this book?

TSIOULCAS: Sure. Let me give you the background for this. Ronan Farrow and his sister Dylan Farrow are the children of Woody Allen and the actress Mia Farrow. Dylan Farrow has alleged that her father sexually abused her in the 1990s, when she was 7 years old. Allen's denied her allegations for decades. He was investigated and exonerated in Connecticut and New York. Even so, Audie, Connecticut state prosecutors were quoted back then as saying they had probable cause to indict Woody Allen but that they didn't want to put a small child through testifying.

CORNISH: Fast forward to 2020. You've got the #MeToo movement. You've got Ronan Farrow's reporting being key to that. Have - has that changed reactions to Woody Allen?

TSIOULCAS: Well, the #MeToo movement has undoubtedly reframed public discourse. Yesterday, I was speaking to a highly placed source in the publishing industry who told me that most major publishing houses had considered Allen's memoir, quote, "radioactive," unquote.

CORNISH: And those Hachette employees - what have you heard from them?

TSIOULCAS: Today I've been talking to a publicist at Little Brown who was part of the walkout. She asked for anonymity. She's still worried about retribution at her job. And this afternoon, she told me...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: It was the ask - is that the book would be canceled, and a lot of people were skeptical that would actually happen. So I'm glad it was canceled. I also know it's a very big financial decision.

TSIOULCAS: So critics of the walkout have called it censorship. But Allen is free to write whatever he wants, and publishers are still free to publish it or not.

CORNISH: Can I ask about Ronan Farrow - what he's had to say about this?

TSIOULCAS: Sure. On Tuesday, he tweeted a statement that said in part that Hachette, quote, "concealed the decision from me and its own employees while we were working on "Catch And Kill," a book about powerful men, including Woody Allen, of how they avoid accountability for sexual abuse," unquote.

CORNISH: And finally, Woody Allen - what's been his response?

TSIOULCAS: We've reached out repeatedly to his representatives, who have not responded, Audie.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Anastasia Tsioulcas.

Thank you so much for your reporting.

TSIOULCAS: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.