When St. Augustine penned his Confessions, he did so to put his past behind him. For many of us writing today, however, confession is more of a way to understand, embrace, and synthesize the past.
While the genre never went totally underground between, well, 398 A.D. and the early 1990s, memoir was more a form reserved for the famous — and famous men, at that. When I studied for my MFA degree back in the late 1980s, for example, students had two choices: to write poetry or fiction.
Why the absence of memoir back then? Why the explosion of it now?
The answer, I think, is cultural. Pre-Oprah, after all, children were to be seen and not heard, while women and those considered "other" were, generally, to be neither seen nor heard — at least not in their true light. The tacit message? Don't tell family secrets.