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Woody Allen’s publisher canceled his memoir after staff walked out

The publisher announced it would be putting out Allen’s memoir Monday. On Thursday, staff walked out.

Woody Allen at a press conference in San Sebastian on July 9, 2019.
Gari Garaialde/Getty Images
Constance Grady is a senior correspondent on the Culture team for Vox, where since 2016 she has covered books, publishing, gender, celebrity analysis, and theater.

Hachette Book Group announced Friday that it is dropping Woody Allen’s memoir, following a staff walkout on Thursday afternoon.

“The decision to cancel Mr. Allen’s book was a difficult one,” senior vice president of communications Sophie Cottrell said in a statement. “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,” Cottrell continued. “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.”

All rights to the book will now return to Allen as a result.

Hachette, one of the “Big Five” houses in trade book publishing, announced on Monday that it would be publishing Allen’s memoir Apropos of Nothing through its imprint Grand Central Publishing in April. The company apparently acquired the book last year, but it kept the sale a secret from the public, as well as from most of its employees, until this week. An anonymous Hachette staffer told Slate that she learned about the acquisition through an AP newswire article. “Obviously, they must’ve known that they were doing something wrong,” she said.

Allen’s memoir would be controversial under any circumstances, because Allen’s adopted daughter Dylan Farrow has accused him of molesting her when she was 7 years old. But it was an especially surprising acquisition for Hachette, which through its imprint Little, Brown also published Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow, Allen’s son and Farrow’s brother. Ronan Farrow, who is considered a rising media star and who has been public in his condemnation of his father and support of his sister, responded by announcing that he would no longer work with Hachette going forward.

Disgruntled Hachette staffers approached human resources with their concerns about the project throughout the week, and on Thursday, Hachette CEO Michael Pietsch held two town hall meetings in which he planned to address employee concerns. After the second meeting, staff members started walking out.

Collective staff action is unusual in publishing, which is a heavily hierarchical business that tends to make its workers depend on networking, connections, and mentoring to advance in the industry. And Hachette, like many book publishers, is not a union shop. So for the staff to walk out signaled a major concern on their part.

“We want the book to be canceled. It’s going to be expensive, but it’s the right thing to do. We want a public apology from the CEO,” the anonymous Hachette staffer told Slate. “This has ruined a really amazing relationship that Little, Brown had with Ronan Farrow, who’s been in touch with us and sent us support. The least they can do is cancel the book.”

Hachette appears to have at last listened.

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