This dissertation examines American autobiographical writing and argues that the contemporary currency of the genre is not an isolated trend but emerges from historical conditions that can be traced back to the early twentieth century. A century ago, autobiography played a unique role in relation to middle-class consumers of culture, because it offered what appeared to be a transparent window into authentic otherness, a way to perceive, and therefore understand and contain, differences that had become unmoored from their nineteenth-century foundations. I explore autobiography's popularity and profitability in terms of a burgeoning middle-class multiculturalism--what I call "modernist multiculturalism"--that, while not identical to the multiculturalism that would come to define the "culture wars" one hundred years later, nonetheless shares many of its flaws and problematic implications. I examine the production, circulation, and reception of a wide range of early twentieth century texts, including autobiographies published in popular magazines, "fake" autobiographies (popular novels passing as autobiographies), and autobiographical sketches published through workers' schools, demonstrating the complexities of representation that are masked when an individual is perceived as transparently representative of a social group. I use the history of autobiographical publication and readership to recast debates within the contemporary era of multiculturalism, where, I argue, these anxieties are recapitulated within literary pedagogy. I argue that the autobiographical has taken on a significance both more central and more unrecognized than ever before, as authors increasingly (and problematically) come to stand in as representatives of marginalized social groups.