The Debate on Confessional Writing

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There has been no shortage of criticism in response to Hamilton Nolan’s Gawker post “Journalism Is Not Narcissism.”

Rumpus editor Stephen Elliott wrote a recent critique of Nolan’s essay, as did memoirist Jillian Lauren and Rumpus columnist Steve Almond.

David Ulin recently weighed in on the issue in his article “Everyone’s Life is Interesting: Defending Confessional Nonfiction.” Ulin claims:

What Nolan is critiquing is the culture of confession, which has without question run amok. Blogs, Twitter, reality television — everywhere we look, people expose themselves.

And yet, the paradox is that the more mindless the narcissism with which we are confronted, the more we need relentless confessional work. It’s the difference between art and artifice, between self-expression and self-importance, and it gets at the key conundrum of this sort of writing: You have to be willing to reveal everything to get outside yourself.

There’s no question that there is a superfluous amount of vapid confessional content strewn about the web. But no writing should be judged by genre alone, and confessional writing should be qualified no differently.


Pat Johnson is currently working on his master’s in Fiction Writing at San Francisco State University, and is the owner and editor of the satirical news website The New Porker. When Pat’s not reading or writing he’s likely squeezing a lime into a Tecate and headed to the dance floor. He also creates short films, documentaries, and sketch comedies. Pat is completing his first novel, The Virgin and Marilyn Monroe, and writing a book of Creative Non-Fiction short stories. More from this author →