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: 2021-2022

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 10. Elements of Poetry and Prose. 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. They then study poetry, with an emphasis on the elements of style. 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, creative fiction, and poetry.

ENGLISH 11. Elements of Prose, Drama, and Nonfiction. 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, read a Shakespeare play, and read a novel, Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God.]

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, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, 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 Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon and Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West.]

ENGLISH 20W. Sophomore Writing Workshop. Year. The Department. 1 meeting weekly. Required of all members of Class III. Weekly nonacademic credit 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. Reading as a Writer: Short Fiction. Fall. The Department. 4 meetings weekly. In this course, we will examine literature to understand better how to write our own creative fiction. We will read widely, from writers such as Chekhov, Borges, Munro, Chiang, Ali Smith, Baldwin, Joyce, Gogol, and Eisenberg. We will look closely at the techniques and strategies that these writers use, and we will do so with an eye to borrow, emulate, and outright steal from these stories. We will practice taking apart the stories and examining the narrative voices in order to better understand how they work. In addition to writing analytical essays, we will practice with creative exercises of our own, culminating in several short stories.

ENGLISH 42. Imagine Communities. Fall. The Department. 4 meetings weekly. Where do we belong? When do we call ourselves at home? Which communities are porous and for whom? Writers have asked these questions over the past century as globalization has risen and regional and national identities have been continually reshaped. In this course we will consider questions of belonging as imagined through literary works. Students will participate in daily seminar discussions and write 4-6 critical essays about works by writers such as Mohsin Hamid, C Pam Zhang, Claudia Rankine, Willa Cather, and Maxine Hong Kingston.

ENGLISH 43. Dystopian Futures. Fall. The Department. 4 meetings weekly. Social chaos. An overreaching authoritarian government. Repression of free speech. Food shortages. Abandoned cities. Climate catastrophes. If this vision of the future sounds scary to you, then prepare to be even more terrified by the worlds constructed by writers of dystopian fiction. A form of speculative literature that imagines a horrifying not-too-distant future, dystopian fiction exaggerates contemporary social problems in order to critique them. By engaging with classic and contemporary examples of dystopian fiction, we will analyze the techniques writers use to warn their readers about what the future might look like if the present world goes in a drastically worse direction. Texts may include Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Ling Ma’s Severance, Rumaan Alam’s Leave the World Behind, George Orwell’s 1984, and Bong Joon-ho’s film Snowpiercer. As we read, discuss, and write, we will consider the central function that this kind of fiction serves for readers: does dystopian fiction work to comfort readers by reminding us that our current world isn’t as bad as the ones these writers imagine? Or does it work to unsettle readers by implying that we might not be too far removed from disaster? Ultimately, this class will invite you to grapple with the kind of future you do (and don’t) want to see.

ENGLISH 44. Creative Writing: The Personal Essay. Fall. The Department. 4 meetings weekly. 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, Zadie Smith, Natalia Ginzburg, 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.

ENGLISH 45. Postcolonial Literature. Fall. The Department. 4 meetings weekly. This course will introduce the questions and debates central to postcolonial studies. Students will read works of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry by writers such as Arundhati Roy, Jamaica Kincaid, NoViolet Bulawayo, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Natalie Diaz. We will consider how these writers attempt, through language and storytelling, to reclaim their own home spaces, cultures, and histories in a post-colonial era. We will reflect on the ways in which geography, power, and politics 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 46. In Search of the American Dream. Fall. The Department. 4 meetings weekly. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby interrogates the notion of the American Dream—the myth that an individual can cultivate their 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 Imbolo Mbue’s Behold the Dreamers 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 Greek and Roman Theatre Company Presents: Drama in Translation. Fall. The Department. 4 meetings weekly. In this course, we share the stage with such great Athenian and Roman playwrights as Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes, Plautus, Terrence, and Seneca, to name a few. As the Greeks and Romans before us, we will explore the interconnectedness of drama and daily life. We will wear both masks and cover tragedy and comedy, asking ourselves why we are laughing or crying. The course will explore the legacy of these works, the mythology and message behind them, and the beauty, passion, and pain present in these ancient performances. We will also discuss modern adaptations and the balance between text, subtext, and performance.

ENGLISH 48. Jane Austen. Fall. The Department. 4 meetings weekly. 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. Hybrids of Plants and Ghosts. Spring. The Department. 4 meetings weekly. “Even the wisest among you,” wrote the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, “is only a conflict and hybrid of plant and ghost.” None of us is one thing to the exclusion of all others; instead, we are amalgams of ideas, emotions, beliefs, experiences, contradictions, and genetics. In this class, we will examine literature that mirrors our hybrid existence by combining different genres—poetry, prose, visual art, and/or fiction—to create new forms. In addition to analyzing literature composed in the hybrid model, we will also experiment with creating our own cross-genre pieces. Works studied will include Claudia Rankin’s Citizen, Anne Carson’s Nox, Tyehimba Jess’ OLIO, Max Porter’s Grief is the Thing with Feathers and Teju Cole’s Blind Spot.

ENGLISH 52. Reading Beyond the Book: Essays on Popular Culture. Spring. The Department. 4 meetings weekly. 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. Creative Writing: Fiction. Spring. The Department. 4 meetings weekly. In this course, student will read and write their own short fiction. We will read widely from a diverse selection of stories, and we will talk about the elements of good writing, from dialogue to plot to characterization to the idiosyncratic and surprising qualities of great stories. We will practice a lot, both in class and outside of class, being observant, deliberate, and imaginative, using exercises to prompt our writing. In the fourth quarter, this course is run as a workshop, so you will read the work of your classmates and hone your own skills as a peer editor and critic.

ENGLISH 54. Creative Writing: Poetry. Spring. The Department. 4 meetings weekly. In this course, students will read and discuss work from a wide range of poets with the aim of writing their own original poems. The course will be divided into three parts, each with a different focus. The first part of the course will emphasize the practices of reading poetry and keeping a writer’s notebook. Students will have the chance to select a poet whose work they would like to read in greater depth, and they will present on and discuss their reading. Material generated in students’ notebooks will later inform their own poems, which students will spend the second part of the course drafting and discussing in writing support groups with their peers and in individual writing conferences with their teacher. In the final part of the course, students will share and discuss their poems in a full-group workshop format, gather revised work into a polished poetry portfolio, and submit their work to journals for publication.

ENGLISH 55. Multigenerational Narratives. Spring. The Department. 4 meetings weekly. In this course we will read a series of novels that weave together family narratives spanning multiple generations. Texts studied might include Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex, Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing, Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake, and Hala Alyan’s Salt Houses. We will study the various structural and stylistic choices these writers make in telling stories that extend widely across time and place. In examining the powerful role that heritage and family lore plays in shaping who we are, we will consider the generational divides that pull family members apart, and the intergenerational experiences and shared histories that unite them. In addition to writing critically about the texts we read, students will also research and craft a personal family narrative of their own.

ENGLISH 56. Am I not a man? Explorations of Race and Masculinity in Contemporary American Literature. Spring. The Department. 4 meetings weekly. This course will seek to examine how race informs the way masculinity has been portrayed in contemporary American literature. How do masculine archetypes that have been previously mythologized in American society change when skin color is non-white? How does this impact identity? We will address intersections of sexuality, misogyny, normative manliness, the human body, and society. Authors may include Jesmyn Ward, Colson Whitehead, Paul Beatty, Nafissa Thompson-Spires, Jia Tolentino, and Ocean Vuong.

ENGLISH 57. Classical Mythology. Spring. The Department. 4 meetings weekly. How did the gods of Greece come to settle on Olympus? What was so inspiring about the Muses? What was the big deal about Achilles’ heel? In this course, we will explore the complex web of Greek and Roman mythology, both as a foundational aspect of life in ancient Greece and Rome and as a window into the intellectual world of the ancients. We will explore myths as origin stories, heroic entertainment, and cautionary tales, and along the way we will ask ourselves what modern-day mythology may look like. We will read selections from such authors as Homer, Hesiod, Ovid, Euripides, Apollonius of Rhodes, Valerius Flaccus, and others.

ENGLISH 58. Concord Writers. Spring. The Department. 4 meetings weekly. 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.