Hachette Book Group is no longer publishing Woody Allen’s autobiography, returning all rights to the author a day after an estimated 75–100 employees walked out in protest. But the US publisher's decision has provoked concern from the likes of Stephen King and English PEN over freedom of speech.
"The decision to cancel Mr Allen’s book was a difficult one," HBG said on Friday (6th March), through senior vice-president of communications Sophie Cottrell. "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."
Pulling the plug just four days after the book was announced, Allen's memoir had been contentious for HBG due to longstanding accusations made against Allen that he molested actress Mia Farrow’s adopted daughter, Dylan Farrow, in 1992. Allen, 84, has always denied the allegations, which were investigated at the time. HBG division Little, Brown US was also the publisher of American journalist Ronan Farrow, Allen's estranged son and Dylan Farrow's adoptive brother, who wrote Catch and Kill, but he severed ties with the publisher on learning of its intentions to publish Allen at Grand Central under the HBG umbrella.
While a win for HBG staffers who walked out in protest last week, Stephen King has spoken out to say the publisher's decision makes him "very uneasy", though not out of regard for Allen. "The Hachette decision to drop the Woody Allen book makes me very uneasy," King wrote on Twitter. “It’s not him; I don’t give a damn about Mr Allen. It’s who gets muzzled next that worries me."
Freedom of speech organisation English PEN also expressed concerns. Jo Glanville wrote for the Observer over the weekend: "I am always afraid when a mob, however small and well-read, exercises power without any accountability, process or redress. That frightens me much more than the prospect of Woody Allen’s autobiography hitting the bookstores."
Glanville told the Guardian further that, considering Allen was investigated on two occasions and never charged, there was "no acceptable reason" for not publishing the book. She said: "The staff at Hachette who walked out were not behaving like publishers; they were acting as censors."
The Amazon.com listing for Apropos of Nothing, previously due to hit shelves on 7th April, has been taken down.
Hachette UK has never had plans to publish the book. A spokesperson for Hachette UK previously told The Bookseller: "Hachette UK is not publishing or distributing Woody Allen’s upcoming memoir."