REVIEW: Confessional Writing

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Image and Review by Press Room Contributor Bri Lee

Friday 4:30pm – 5:30pm, Elderly Citizen’s Centre

Anthony Nocera did a damn good job of chairing this session. He opened by coaxing confessions out of Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen and Patrick Lenton, then made one himself, and we all laughed together, somehow with the people on stage, rather than at them. I know that’s cliché, but it’s important.

The panel covered some old ground in the beginning and I was momentarily worried I’d get a little bored, but Giselle and Patrick had super fresh perspectives on classic questions like “what will your family think?” Giselle’s father is a notable person in the Vietnamese community and at the start she said that her writing “has some ramifications in the community”, but that she doesn’t care. Later on though she mentioned asking for advice from Benjamin Law when it came to writing about her Asian-Australian family experience and she felt reassured when he said it was okay to leave a lot out – that there are things that are too personal and private to share.

Giselle was much more forthcoming about her personal confessions, describing herself as “comically single” and that an ex-boyfriend complained that she “kind of made [him] sound like a dick” in one of her pieces to which she replied, “well…” and . Patrick had a bit of a different take on things because he has a long-term partner who prefers private things remain private. He also raise a really interesting point that he doesn’t like the word ‘confessional’ because it suggests something is ‘wrong’ and he hates “that Catholic idea of confessing to be absolved.”

This brought up a new theme around how confessional writing can have a positive impact. Someone wrote to him once saying: “I read your article, I’m going to talk to my partner” after a personal article of his went live online. He also spoke really wonderfully about how it was different and important for him to write about his sexuality even though he was engaged to a woman, and Anthony agreed that a lot of identity-searching confessional writing for some reason centres around sex. For example: coming out as gay or bi and so therefore having sex with someone of the same gender was the whole point of it and seen as necessary to seal-the-deal. Anthony moved the conversation subtly to point out how sharing your own experience can be powerful both for the reader and writer: “Two years ago I tried to end my life and I thought I’d never write about that, but I got to a point where I finally felt like I wanted to share it”.

Someone brought up the thing we all know about how David Sedaris gets to write “essays” but a woman doing the same thing would be called “confessionals” or perhaps even “memoir”. Prompted by a few more great questions, the idea of memory being failable and memoir rarely being the whole story was discussed, before Anthony expertly wrapped things up. This panel was funny and safe yet fresh – all the best things about NYWF.