Diary: Meghan O’Gieblyn, On Writing the Midw…

The essayist Meghan O’Gieblyn grew up outside of Detroit. She reflects on how the Midwest became her subject even as she tried to leave it behind. One criticism of the personal essay—an old one, though it’s been revived with special fervor in recent years—is its tendency toward confession. To some extent, this is simply a matter of lineage. The origins of what we today call “personal writing” can be traced back to Augustine, so it’s not coincidental that the genre so frequently reverts to the tenor of the Christian ritual: the divulging of transgressions, the preening need for absolution. In fact, I’ve often sensed in these complaints about confessional writing an underlying impatience with religion itself and the persistence of its postures in modern life. It is now the twenty-first century, these critics seem to say, and high time we got off our knees and took ownership of our lives.

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