The English Department

The English curriculum fosters students’ understanding of and pleasure in literature and cultivates their ability to express their ideas clearly, persuasively, and accurately in writing. We undertake this endeavor collectively, in discussions around the table, in which we teach students to hone their ability to articulate their ideas, to listen attentively to the contributions of others, and to contribute generously towards the shared tasks of discussing literature and mastering the fundamental principles of writing. We seek to expose our students to great literature from a variety of voices and in a variety of genres. Our students write frequently, as they move from short, focused writing assignments to longer, more complex ones as they mature. As they move through the curriculum, we ask our students to develop their analysis, abstraction, and creativity in critical responses to literature with increasing independence. 

To reach these goals, the Department has established a three-year foundational series in which all students follow the same curriculum. The ninth-grade year emphasizes literature in different genres, short writing assignments, and fundamentals of grammar and style. In addition, ninth graders write creative non-fiction. The sophomore curriculum, with its Writing Workshop, is at the heart of the program: in this year, students master the essential skills of cogent, persuasive analytical writing. The junior year provides students with a chance to hone their analytical skills, and polish their critical writing, as they prepare to take the AP English Literature and Composition and the AP English Language and Composition Examinations.

The English curriculum for the senior year consists of a variety of semester-long seminars, which allow students to pursue areas of particular intellectual interest and to write in different genres.


English Courses: 2020-2021

ENGLISH 10. Elements of Fiction. Fall. The Department. 5 meetings weekly. Required of all members of Class IV. Writing intensive course. Freshman English fall semester. This course provides students with the fundamentals necessary for their future work in English. During the fall, students investigate the techniques of fiction, reading and analyzing short stories and a novel, Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. Formal instruction in writing is an integral part of this course, and students write frequently. In each semester, they are expected to master the writing of a unified paragraph and a unified essay. Throughout the year, students study essential points of grammar, usage, and punctuation. The course aims, above all, to help students acquire a clear and confident voice in speaking and writing about fiction, poetry, and drama.

ENGLISH 11. Elements of Poetry, Creative Nonfiction, and Drama. Spring. The Department. 5 meetings weekly. Required of all members of Class IV. Writing intensive course. Freshman English spring semester. For description see English 10. [During the spring, students study and write creative nonfiction, study the fundamentals of poetry, and read a Shakespeare play.]

ENGLISH 20. Literature and Composition I. Fall. The Department. 5 meetings weekly. Required of all members of Class III. Writing intensive course. Sophomore English fall semester. This course introduces students to great works in the Western literary tradition; in the first semester, students read Homer’s Iliad, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, and a series of sonnets that span from Shakespeare to Terrance Hayes. The course seeks to develop in students the ability to convert their intuitions about the meaning of these complex texts into organized, coherent, articulate assertions. While encouraging students to recognize that these texts are ultimately inexhaustible and irreducible, the course demands that students make clear and forceful general assertions, both in speech and in writing, and support these general assertions with a wealth of detail. Writing assignments are frequent and closely coordinated with the topics covered in Sophomore Writing Workshop. By year’s end, all students are expected to demonstrate a mastery of the protocols of the formal essay.

ENGLISH 21. Literature and Composition II. Spring. The Department. 5 meetings weekly. Required of all members of Class III. Writing intensive course. Sophomore English spring semester. For description see English 20. [In the spring semester, students continue to hone close reading skills and the development of the critical essay. Texts include Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.]

ENGLISH 20W. Sophomore Writing Workshop. Year. The Department. 1 meeting weekly. Required of all members of Class III. Weekly workshops on the craft of writing with particular emphasis on the analytical writing done in the disciplines of English and History. These workshops analyze and develop, one by one, the elements that constitute effective expository and analytical writing. The workshops begin with an analysis of the function of the paragraph and the topic sentence; they move on to techniques for subordinating evidence, strengthening coherence and logical flow, revising paragraphs, and introducing and concluding essays. The workshops finish by addressing the finer details, presenting a variety of sentence structures, and offering rules of punctuation. Along the way, students study how to make good writing better, how to make their ideas more distinct, and, above all, how and why writing is a process of reformulation and revision. The workshops conclude with a writing test and a grammar and punctuation test. Students continue in the course until they have passed these tests.

ENGLISH 30. Advanced Placement English Literature and Composition I. Fall. The Department. 5 meetings weekly. Required of all members of Class II. Writing intensive course. Junior English fall semester. This course focuses on the techniques of textual criticism appropriate to each of the major genres. Mastering these techniques provides preparation for the Advanced Placement Examination in English Literature and Composition, and the AP Exam in English Language and Composition. In the fall, all students read Shakespeare’s Hamlet and study poetry. Formal instruction in writing reinforces and expands the work of the Sophomore Writing Workshop, as students apply these skills to writing critical essays that demand further sophistication of approach and discernment. 

ENGLISH 31. Advanced Placement English Literature and Composition II. Spring. The Department. 5 meetings weekly. Required of all members of Class II. Writing intensive course. Junior English spring semester. For description see English 30. [In the spring, the course focuses on short and long-form prose, including novels, short stories, and nonfiction.]

The following courses are open during the fall semester to all members of Classes I and II. In the case of over enrollment, preference will be given to members of Class I.

ENGLISH 41. Studies in Medieval Literature. In this course, we will read three of the following four classics of medieval literature: the Old English epic Beowulf, Dante’s Inferno, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, and the Middle English romance Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. In any given year, however, we may decide to focus exclusively on the “Matter of Britain,” i.e., those texts, literary, historical, and quasi-historical, pertaining to King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. In any case, we are sure to encounter dragons, monsters, giants, knights, and loathly ladies.

ENGLISH 42. Liars, Tricksters, and Misanthropes: Studies in Unreliable Narration. How does a tale change when we don’t trust the teller? Stories can be incomplete, misleading, self-aggrandizing, or naïve, yet these “laws” often captivate readers with an added layer of psychological adventure. From Dostoevsky’s “Underground Man,” who only leaves the house on Tuesdays, to Alice Munro’s proudly confident child narrators, unreliable storytellers are themselves often the real subjects of their stories. In this course we will study a selection of fictional works that require us to evaluate not just the tale but the mind and voice from which it comes. Writers may include Fyodor Dostoevsky, Ford Madox Ford, Kazuo Ishiguro, Iris Murdoch, J.D. Salinger, Virginia Woolf, Vladimir Nabokov, Alice Munro and others.

ENGLISH 43. Nature Writing. This course reads literature about natural environments and humans’ precarious place within them.  We’ll look at poets such as William Wordsworth, Derek Walcott, Jorie Graham, and Tommy Pico, and prose writers including Dorothy Wordsworth, Henry David Thoreau, Elizabeth Kolbert, or Richard Powers.  In addition to critical exercises, our two major assignments will be creative: a poem and an essay or short story.

ENGLISH 44. Creative Writing: The Personal Essay. In this course, we will read and write personal essays. A personal essay can be about almost anything, but whatever the subject—whether personal experience, family history, or the vagaries of the world—the writer’s own voice and personality are central. For some classes, we will read and analyze the personal essays of master craftsmen such as Virginia Woolf, E. B. White, James Baldwin, George Orwell, Joan Didion, Mark Twain, and Adam Gopnik; in other classes, students will read and discuss the essays of their classmates.  Each week students will write or revise some part of a personal essay; by the end of the course, students will complete a portfolio of six or seven personal essays. Every second or third week, there will be student-teacher conferences about students’ ongoing work.

ENGLISH 45. Creative Writing: Poetry and Short Fiction. This introductory course will explore the elements and techniques that make for vivid, effective writing across two genres–poetry and short fiction. Students will experiment with a variety of poetic forms and explore the principles of successful storytelling. We will read extensively in this course, using master works of literature as inspiration for our own craft. We will ruminate on the writing process and practice the art of revision. Expect to share your work with others and comment on the work of your peers.

ENGLISH 46. In Search of the American Dream. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby interrogates the notion of the American Dream—the myth that an individual can cultivate his own happiness and prestige with the right combination of ambition, work, and self-determination—but what does the American Dream look like beyond Gatsby? What does the American Dream look like to individuals, or to marginalized groups, who have historically existed beyond the dominant narrative? We will encounter characters whose actions are often determined by their shifting relationship to the American Dream, as they come to recognize that dream as illusory or as they articulate what they have likely known all along—that the American Dream may not apply to them. Readings will include Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man and Tommy Orange’s There There. We will also consider a selection of short stories, by such writers as Flannery O’Connor, Sherman Alexie, or William Faulkner.

ENGLISH 47. The Novel After Modernism. In this course, we will read what is being written now and study the perspectives of contemporary authors on the world in which we live. The subjects of traditional literary fiction have expanded to include a much larger, more inclusive range of voices, and novelists have pushed the formal boundaries as well, with increasing willingness to use fantasy, science fiction, and speculative fiction to tell their stories. Writers use magical realism about America’s Underground Railroad, invoke magical doorways to reflect upon contemporary refugees and envision an American landscape post-apocalypse. Authors may include Celeste Ng, George Saunders, Colson Whitehead, Ocean Vuong, Kevin Wilson, Jesmyn Ward, Charles Yu, Yaa Gyasi, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Imbolo Mbue, and Anthony Marra.

ENGLISH 48. Jane Austen. Many readers have argued that Austen’s novels cultivate a narrow and self-enclosed world-view. For some, this creates an ideally limited space for the author to experiment with the novel form and to represent individual psychological experience. Others consider the social world of her novels to be claustrophobic and limiting. As we read, we will question the underlying assumption of this view of Austen’s novels. In our study of Austen’s major completed novels, we will discuss the relationships between irony, shame, satire, social manners, and the novel form.

The following courses are open in the spring semester to all members of Classes I and II. In the case of over-enrollment, preference will be given to members of Class I.

ENGLISH 51. From “The Dream of the Rood” to Harry Potter: Fantasy Literature in English. In this course we will read a sampling of the literature of the imagination from the Middle Ages to the present day. Texts may include one of Shakespeare’s comedies or romances; some Romantic poetry (especially of John Keats); and at least two modern novels (for example, Barrie’s Peter Pan, Tolkien’s Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings, or a novel from Lewis’ Narnia series, Jacques’ Redwall series, Pratchett’s Discworld series, Rowling’s Harry Potter series, or Pullman’s His Dark Materials series). Simply bring your own imaginations with you, and we should all have an experience at once enjoyable and edifying.

ENGLISH 52. Reading Beyond the Book: Essays on Popular Culture. From Roland Barthes’ study of professional wrestling to Paul Fussell’s reading of The Indianapolis 500 to Gerald Early’s reflections on the Miss America Pageant, essayists have long sought to understand the products of mass culture from a critical perspective, and their investigations might expand our sense of what a text can be. In this course we will read and discuss writers from the past two centuries who find their material in surprisingly popular places, and you will emulate their work with essays of your own. Authors will include Roland Barthes, David Foster Wallace, Susan Sontag, Gerald Early, Eula Biss, Paul Fussell, and others.

ENGLISH 53. Comedy and Humor. Why do we laugh? What makes something funny? Beginning with Voltaire’s Candide, the course will read comic works by authors such as Jonathan Swift, Jane Austen, Chinua Achebe, Douglas Adams, John Kennedy Toole or Ottessa Moshfegh.  Some literary texts will be paired with films or TV shows (such as Chaplin’s City Lights, or Arrested Development, or Broad City), and a major assignment will involve writing some of your own comedy.

ENGLISH 54. Twilight of the Idols. This course will examine the mysterious, often fraught, always complicated relationships between parents and children. What is the nature of the different words that children and adults inhabit? What happens when children, of necessity, individuate from their parents?  Texts studied might include Tarjei Vesaas’ The Ice Palace, Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones, James Baldwin’s Go Tell It On the Mountain and Colm Toibin’s Brooklyn.

ENGLISH 55. Postcolonial Literature. In this course, we will explore and engage with voices beyond the Western literary canon. We will read fiction and nonfiction by a diverse group of writers, including India’s Arundhati Roy, Haiti’s Edwidge Danticat, Nigeria’s Chimamanda Adichie, Kenya’s Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, and Antigua’s Jamaica Kincaid. We will consider how these writers attempt, through language and storytelling, to reclaim their own home spaces and places in a post-colonial era. We will reflect on the ways in which geography, history, and culture shape and define the fictional experiences and characters we encounter, and perhaps most importantly, we will consider how our own cultural perspectives inform our understandings of what we read.

ENGLISH 56. Shakespeare. In 1623, Ben Jonson presciently said that Shakespeare “was not of an age but for all time.”  And yet few authors have been more energetically engaged in their own times than Shakespeare.  In his plays we witness Renaissance England’s diverse speech patterns, burgeoning culture and precarious politics.  This course will read some works written as Shakespeare was beginning to grasp the full range of his powers—these might include A Midsummer Night’s Dream, King Lear, and Julius Caesar. We’ll end with The Tempest, in which Shakespeare bids farewell to his art.

ENGLISH 57. Creative Writing: Fiction. This course is for students interested in writing short stories and studying what makes successful fiction. We will read widely from a diverse group of writers, and we will talk extensively about the art of writing. We will also study the basic elements of good fiction: plot, dialogue, character development, etc. This course is run as a workshop, so your stories will be read by your classmates, and you will develop your own skills as a peer editor and critic.

ENGLISH 58. Alcott, Hawthorne, Emerson, and Thoreau. This course will explore the literary landscape of Concord, MA and its environs– literally and figuratively. As we read and discuss essays by Ralph Waldo Emerson, we will also take a trip to his house in downtown Concord. After we read Walden by Henry David Thoreau, we will visit Walden Pond and take a walk to the site of his cabin. After reading Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, we will visit the Orchard House where Alcott spent much of her life. Additional readings by Nathaniel Hawthorne and Emily Dickinson may also be included. This course will require students to read critically and with attention to historical and cultural context, and student essays will incorporate some outside research with guidance from the teacher, the Warburg Library, and local resources.