Is All Memoir Confessional?

January 11, 2013 § 25 Comments

From Brevity Managing Editor Sarah Einstein:

memoirKatie Roiphe is the latest voice in the conversation-of-the-moment about what’s wrong with memoir, sparked by Susan Shapiro’s piece in the New York Times and Hamilton Nolan’s response to it on Gawker. While I’m not willing to concede that there is any particular crisis in memoir at the moment, the article is nonetheless full of insight and good advice.  Turn a critical eye on yourself. Entertain the reader. Write well. Make the reader feel you’re being honest (which, I might humbly suggest, is best done by not being dishonest). All good stuff.  Do those things. Or do your best to do them. They aren’t easy things to do. I try and fail almost every day.

But what concerns me, in this otherwise excellent piece, is the way in which Roiphe conflates confessional and personal writing in the second paragraph. Her purpose, she says, is to “think methodically about what separates good confessional writing from bad confessional writing,” but she then moves seamlessly into a larger discussion about all personal writing.

Is all memoir confessional? Is all personal writing memoir? What is the value of subgenres in creative nonfiction, and what do we lose (or gain) when we collapse them? What do you think?



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