Marah Gubar

Marah Gubar joined MIT’s Literature faculty in 2014. Previously, she was an Associate Professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh, where she directed the nationally recognized Children’s Literature Program. She earned her Ph.D. in English from Princeton University and did her undergraduate work at the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor), where she received a B.A. in English and a B.F.A. in Musical Theatre.
She teaches and writes about children’s literature from a variety of periods, but she is especially interested in nineteenth- and twentieth-century representations of childhood and the history of children’s theatre. Her book Artful Dodgers: Reconceiving the Golden Age of Children’s Literature came out from Oxford University Press in 2009 and won the Children’s Literature Association’s Book Award. She has also received several teaching prizes, including the Association of Princeton Graduate Alumni Teaching Award and the Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award (the highest teaching honor given to faculty at Pitt).
She is very excited to get to know the MIT community and the greater Boston area!

If I had to single out the two key terms that crop up most often in my work on children’s literature and culture, I would say “agency” and “precocity.” What kind of agency (if any) do children have, and how does it differ from adult agency? Do young people participate in the production of culture, or merely have it thrust upon them by adults? When is a competent child perceived as precocious, and how has our idea of what constitutes precocity changed over time? These are some of the questions I address in my work on Anglo-American children’s literature and culture.

My book Artful Dodgers (2009) made two historical interventions that I have continued to elaborate in more recent work. First, I contend that the middle-class ideology of childhood innocence and dependency was much slower to spread than literary critics and historians generally assume. A fascination with the precocious child—not the Romantic “Child of Nature”—was a defining characteristic of the Victorian and Edwardian “cult of the child.” Second, I suggest that one reason why we tend to overestimate the dominance of the ideology of innocence is that we have paid too little attention to theatrical representations of childhood, considering that drama was the most popular and widely accessible form of culture during this era.

My main theoretical intervention into children’s literature and childhood studies has been to argue that creative writers whose audience includes young people have done a better job than theorists of generating nuanced, non-naïve accounts of children’s agency. When we theorize about childhood, I contend, we should take our lead from them, as I do in my new book project when I map out a “kinship model” of childhood and distinguish it from more disabling “difference” and “deficit” models. My goal is to formulate a new theoretical paradigm that allows scholars to acknowledge children’s participation in youth culture without pretending that they are fully autonomous agents.


Artful Dodgers: Reconceiving the Golden Age of Children’s Literature (Oxford University Press, 2009)

How to Think About Children: Childhood Studies in the Academy and Beyond (work-in-progress)


“Toothless Pedagogy: Problematizing Paternalism in Children’s Literature and Childhood Studies.” Children’s Literature 48 (forthcoming, summer 2020)

“Urchins, Unite: Newsies as an Antidote to Annie.” In Children, Childhood, and Musical Theater, edited by James Leve and Donelle Ruwe (Routledge, forthcoming in 2020)

“Innocence.” Keywords for Children’s Literature 2.0, edited by Nina Christensen, Philip Nel, and Lissa Paul (NYU Press, forthcoming in 2020)

“The Mixed-Up Kids of Mrs. E. L. Konigsburg.” In Think in Public: A Public Books Reader, edited by Sharon Marcus and Caitlin Zaloom (Columbia University Press, 2019). Originally published online at:

“Seen and Heard: Remembering Children’s Art and Activism.” Los Angeles Review of Books 20 (November 2018): 42–51. Reprinted online at:

“Child.” Special Keywords issue of VLC: Victorian Literature and Culture 46.3/4 (Fall/Winter 2018): 616–621

“Empathy is Not Enough.” Review of Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give. Public Books (July 2017):

“The Cult of the Child Revisited: Making Fun of Fauntleroy.” In Late Victorian into Modern (Oxford 21st-Century Approaches to Literature), edited by Laura Marcus, Michèle Mendelssohn, and Kirsten Shepherd-Barr. Oxford University Press, 2016: 398–413

“The Hermeneutics of Recuperation: What a Kinship-Model Approach to Children’s Agency Could Do for Children’s Literature and Childhood Studies.” Jeunesse: Young People, Texts, Cultures 8.1 (2016): 291–310

“The Teflon Kid: How Annie Enables Apathy About Inequality.” Public Books (January 2015):

“Unsettling Sentimentality: Scrapbooks, Children’s Books, and the Assembled Narratives of Duane Michals.” In Duane Michals, Storyteller. (Carnegie Museum of Pittsburgh and Prestel Publishing, 2014)): 90–115

“Pitt Pioneers: or, How Our Faculty Helped Establish Children’s Literature and Childhood Studies in the Academy.” Co-written with Anna Redcay for the Pitt Children’s Literature website (June 2014):

“Entertaining Children of All Ages: Nineteenth-Century Popular Theater as Children’s Theater.” American Quarterly 66.1 (March 2014): 1–34

“Body Projects: The Killer Makeover in Recent YA Dystopias.” Public Books (May 2013):

“Risky Business: Talking About Children in Children’s Literature Criticism.” Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 38.4 (Winter 2013): 450–457

“Good Morning iPad: Technology in Twenty-First-Century Picture Books.” Public Books (December 2012):

“Who Watched The Children’s Pinafore? Age Transvestism on the Nineteenth-Century Stage.” Victorian Studies 54.3 (Spring 2012): 410–426

“Children and Theatre.” Editor’s introduction, special issue of The Lion and the Unicorn 36.2 (April 2012): v–xiv

“On Not Defining Children’s Literature.” PMLA 126.1 (January 2011): 209–216

“Innocence.” Keywords for Children’s Literature, edited by Philip Nel and Lissa Paul. New York University Press, 2011: 121–127

“Lewis Carroll and the Cult of the Child.” Program Note for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra’s “Twisted Classics” Program (May 2011): 444–445

“All That David Copperfield Kind of Crap.” Posted in 2011 on the Children’s Literature Association website:

Peter Pan as Children’s Theatre: The Issue of Audience.” Oxford Handbook of Children’s Literature, edited by Julia Mickenberg and Lynn Vallone. Oxford University Press, 2011: 475–495

“The Drama of Precocity: Child Performers on the Victorian Stage.” The Nineteenth-Century Child and Consumer Culture, edited by Dennis Denisoff. Ashgate, 2008: 63-78

“Lewis in Wonderland: The Looking-Glass World of Sylvie and Bruno.” Texas Studies in Literature and Language 48.4 (December 2006): 372-394

“‘Whacked-Out Partners’: The Inversion of Empathy in the Joey Pigza Trilogy.” Children’s Literature in Education 35.3 (September 2004): 219-239

“Species Trouble: The Abjection of Adolescence in E. B. White’s Stuart Little.” The Lion and the Unicorn 27.1 (January 2003): 98-119

“Revising the Seduction Paradigm: The Case of Ewing’s The Brownies.Children’s Literature 30 (2002): 42-65

“Partners in Crime: E. Nesbit and the Art of Thieving.” Style 35.3 (Fall 2001): 410-429

“‘Where is the Boy?’: The Pleasures of Postponement in the Anne of Green Gables Series.” The Lion and the Unicorn 25.1 (January 2001): 47-69


Subjects taught the current academic year:

21L.452[J] Literature and Philosophy (Spring 2023)

21L.500[J] How We Got to Hamilton (New) (Fall 2022)

21L.S88 Special Subject in Literature: School Stories--CANCELLED (Spring 2023)


Subjects taught in recent years:

21L.015 Children’s Literature: Imagining Alternative Worlds (Spring 2022)

21L.325 Small Wonders: Children Creating Culture (Spring 2022)

21L.452[J] Literature and Philosophy (Spring 2023)

21L.500[J] How We Got to Hamilton (New) (Fall 2022)

21L.S88 Special Subject in Literature: School Stories--CANCELLED (Spring 2023)

When I was a kid growing up in Indiana, I was lucky enough to be part of a children’s theatre company called “Acting Up.” It was directed by Patricia M. Gleeson, who later directed the Boston Children’s Theatre for almost twenty years. She was an inspiring and demanding teacher, and working with her made me long for a career as a musical theatre performer.

Although I didn’t know it at the time, the peak of my theatrical career came when I was about twelve: I played Rosie in Really Rosie, a musical based on some of Maurice Sendak’s books featuring music by Carole King. During this time, I also had the privilege of singing in the Indiana University Children’s Choir, directed by the amazing Dr. Mary Goetze, as well as the chorus of several IU Opera Theater productions. It was magical to be a dwarf in Das Rhinegold, a rich Parisian child in La Bohème, and a fairy in A Midsummer Night’s Dream!

Inspired by such experiences, I auditioned for the Musical Theatre Program at the University of Michigan and spent four years there earning a performance degree. I loved it, but there were lots of tough moments when cast lists went up and I wasn’t on them. By the time I was a senior, I think I knew that acting wasn’t going to work out for me as a career. Still, I decided to move to Chicago and give it a try because I had gotten work there as a singing waitress on a cruise ship that went around and around in circles on Lake Michigan.

Once there, I quickly recognized that I did not have the drive and talent—not to mention the waitressing skills—to continue pursuing a career as a performer. So I applied to graduate school in English to study drama and children’s literature. To my great delight, my scholarly work now involves unearthing the history of the children’s theatre tradition that I participated in as an amateur child performer. Moreover, every time I give a lecture or get interviewed, I am grateful for my stage training. That said, I miss singing as well as working behind the scenes on theatrical productions, so I hope to get involved somehow with the performing arts scene in Cambridge and Boston!