Recently, two of Prof. Marah Gubar’s articles have been honored by different academic organizations. Her essay “Entertaining Children of All Ages: Nineteenth-Century Popular Theater as Children’s Theater,” which appeared in volume 66.1 of American Quarterly in March 2014, was awarded the Honorable Mention for the prestigious Oscar G. Brockett Essay Prize, which is sponsored by the American Society for Theatre Research and Oscar G. Brockett Center. The Brockett Prize is an article award for senior scholars in the field of theatre studies.
Here is a summary of what Prof. Gubar’s article is about:
This essay contends that young Americans were so omnipresent as performers and audience members during the nineteenth century that virtually all forms of popular theater from this period – including the pantomime, the extravaganza, the melodrama, and the minstrel show – can profitably be considered children’s theater. Humpty Dumpty, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Rip Van Winkle: many of the century’s biggest theatrical hits were enacted by mixed-age casts for mixed-age audiences, because the general population was not yet convinced that children needed to be shielded from paid labor and provided with their own separate and specially sanitized leisure activities. Too often, we presume that nineteenth-century children were so strongly associated with innocence, dependency, and vulnerability that no significant conflict over this bourgeois ideal took place. Yet as the controversies that swirled around all-child troupes such as the Viennoise Children in the 1840s and child stars such as Buster Keaton at century’s end attest, the nineteenth-century stage was a site of struggle over how to define the categories child and adult. Just as conflicting attitudes about women and African Americans were on display in burlesques and minstrel shows, so too deep uncertainties about what it meant to be a child played themselves out in nineteenth-century productions aimed at ‘children of all ages.’
The second article of Prof. Gubar’s that has been honored is her short essay “Risky Business: Talking About Children in Children’s Literature Criticism,” which appeared in the Children’s Literature Association Quarterly, volume 38.4, in the Winter 2013 issue. It was part of a forum called “Manifestos from the 2013 Children’s Literature Association Conference,” which won a Children’s Literature Association “Honor Award” for Best Article of 2013. The other participants in this forum were Robin Bernstein, Karin E. Westman, and Sara L. Schwebel.
Here is an abstract that outlines what Prof. Gubar argues in her “manifesto”:
Embracing a critical paradigm that holds that children do not participate in the realm of children’s literature and culture has itself caused scholars to ignore what young people have said, written, and done in the realm of children’s literature and culture. This essay contends that the time has come to articulate not only new theories about what it means to be a child, but also a new paradigm for how to do children’s literature criticism, one that builds on but also decisively departs from Jacqueline Rose’s vision of children’s literature as an adult practice.