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: 2023-2024

ENGLISH 10 – Elements of Poetry and Prose
Fall. Required of all members of Class IV. Writing intensive course. Ninth-grade 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. Required of all members of Class IV. Writing intensive course. Ninth-grade 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. Required of all members of Class III. Writing intensive course. Tenth-grade English fall semester.

In the first semester, students read Homer’s Iliad and Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon. 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. Required of all members of Class III. Writing intensive course. Tenth-grade 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 Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, a series of sonnets that span from Shakespeare to Terrance Hayes. and Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West.]

ENGLISH 20W – Sophomore Writing Workshop
Year. 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. Required of all members of Class II. Writing intensive course. Eleventh-grade 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. Required of all members of Class II. Writing intensive course. Eleventh-grade 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 – Creative Writing: Poetry

In this writing-intensive course, students will focus on developing their craft as poets. No experience necessary, but you should be committed to becoming a better poet. We will read widely from poets working in a range of forms and styles, reading to develop our own poetic practices. We will listen and borrow from the ways that other poets use sound, rhythm, imagery, pace, and a whole array of techniques to craft their poems. We will write frequently and revise even more frequently. In the second half of the course, we will frequently workshop our poems and sharpen our abilities to become critical, constructive editors.

ENGLISH 42 – Creative Nonfiction: Personal Essays on Contemporary American Culture

From Paul Fussell’s reading of The Indianapolis 500 to Gerald Early’s reflections on the Miss America Pageant to Jia Tolentino’s investigations of “Instagram Face,” essayists often seek to understand the products of popular American culture from a critical perspective. Expanding our notion of what a text can be, they apply the tools of literary analysis to the phenomena of daily life, and in the process come to learn more about themselves as well. In this course we will explore the flexibility of the essay form by reading contemporary creative nonfiction, and you will put your analytical skills to work in new ways by writing creative essays of your own. Authors will include Jia Tolentino, David Foster Wallace, Gerald Early, Eula Biss, Taffy Broddeser-Akner, Adam Gopnik, Paul Fussell, and many others.

ENGLISH 43 – 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 naive, yet these “flaws” 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 Maddox Ford, Kazuo Ishiguro, Iris Murdoch, J.D. Salinger, Virginia Woolf, Vladimir Nabokov, Alice Munro, and others.

ENGLISH 44 – Quests and Adventures

How has the adventure story shaped Western literature and culture? In this course, we will examine the role of the hero/adventurer and the situations that have created the need for their tasks starting with ancient texts and moving through history to consider later texts. In addition, we will explore the nature of myth and the fantastic as essential elements of this kind of story. Works may include tales such as Homer’s Odyssey, the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf, the medieval poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, a fairy tale, The Hobbit, A Wrinkle in Time, and the film Star Wars, Episode IV. Alongside exploring the theme of this course, we will address aspects of reading, thinking, and writing critically about texts.

ENGLISH 45 – Postcolonial Literature

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 47 – Global Speculative Fiction

For a long time, the story of speculative fiction – science fiction, fantasy, horror, and everything in between – has been a white, Eurocentric one which characterizes the emergence of these non-realist genres as a response to the Industrial Revolution. But there’s an entire world of speculative fiction traditions with rich histories all their own, many of which predate this Western-centric account or have evolved separately. In this course, we will ask ourselves if there are universal qualities of or uses for speculative fiction, as well as how what it means for a piece of fiction to be “speculative” might change depending on cultural context. We will read selections from authors such as Nnedi Okorafor, Liu Cixin, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Gautam Bhatia, Ahmed Saadawi, and others.

ENGLISH 48 – Nineteenth-Century British Literature

We will study a range of nineteenth-century poetry and prose in its historical contexts: the American and French Revolutions, the Napoleonic Wars, the rapid expansion of trade and industry, dramatic shifts in population, imperial expansion, political debates and reforms. We will examine the common cultural factors that shaped the development of so many fiercely individual and revolutionary thinkers. Readings may include Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, Ennui by Maria Edgeworth, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, Hard Times by Charles Dickens, Dracula by Bram Stoker, poetry by Robert Burns, William Blake, William Wordsworth, S.T. Coleridge, John Keats, Byron, P.B. Shelley, Robert Browning, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Matthew Arnold, Christina Rossetti, and more.

ENGLISH 49 – Modern Tragedy

How do our modern conceptions of tragedy emerge from the Greek models of men like Achilles or Shakespearean heroes like Hamlet? We will track how the genre develops on stage and in essays and novels in the 20th and 21st century, moving away from ancient tales of gods and warriors to examinations of real-life events. What needs does the idea of tragedy serve in our modern era? We will begin by looking at Sophocles’ Antigone and its modern retelling in Shamsie’s Home Fire. Then, using Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House as our hinge text, we will consider what happens when playwrights relocate tragedy in the domestic space, in response to the atrocities of the first half of the 20th century. We will use Arthur Miller’s essay ”Tragedy and the Common Man” as a frame to consider how post-war playwrights, such as Arthur Miller, Ariel Dorfman, and Edward Albee, turned their attention to societal myths of their age and sought to implicate the audience in real-life acts of terror and violence. We will end the course by considering what stories are being told in contemporary tragedies–on TV series such as Succession and Breaking Bad and in film– and we will consider what issues we might explore if we were to write our own original tragic works.

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 – Creative Writing: Fiction

In this writing-intensive 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 52 – Imagined Communities

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 53 – Politics, Power, and the Artist

“All literature is protest. You can’t name a single novel that isn’t protest.” –Richard Wright. What is the political responsibility of the artist? How do writers and artists use poetry, plays, music, and prose to reflect a reality that is oppressive and unjust? To what extent do these artistic representations of life refute and protest against political oppression, and to what extent do they shape our understanding of that political oppression? How have ideas of identity, justice, freedom, and citizenship been informed by literature? How do emerging ideas of nationalism refute and reshape themselves as artists criticize politics and power? This course will look at how writers respond to politics and power as artists. We will read widely, in both prose and poetry, and in subjects from the Soviet Union to contemporary Syria, Ukraine, Zimbabwe, and America. Texts may include Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Ilya Kaminsky’s Deaf Republic, Omar El Akkad’s What Strange Paradise, NoViolet Bulawayo’s Glory, the short fiction of Isaac Babel and Louise Erdrich, Terrance Hayes’ American Sonnets for my Past and Future Assassin, and Colson Whitehead’s Nickle Boys, among other texts.

ENGLISH 54 – Children’s Literature

What are the stories that have inspired literature for children? When did works specifically for children emerge in Britain and America? This course will start with an examination of the convergence of ideas in Britain that fostered the emergence of literature written for the child reader. The course will then turn to nineteenth-century fiction written for children. We will examine how these works engaged with the Romantic ideal of the child, either by reinforcing the ideal or contesting/deconstructing it, as well as consider how the works for children evolved from tales (moral tales and fairy tales) into works that focused more realistically on the life of the child. Texts may include selections from The Blue Fairy Book and other tales, as well as Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, Treasure Island, The Princess and the Goblin, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Wizard of Oz, and The Secret Garden.

ENGLISH 55 – Multigenerational Narratives

In this course we will have the opportunity to both read and write family narratives that span multiple generations. 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. We will read a series of novels that weave together family narratives spanning multiple generations. Texts studied might include Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko, Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine, Rebecca Makkai’s The Great Believers, Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake, and Jaqueline Woodson’s Red at the Bone. 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 – Classical Mythology

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 57 – Am I not a man? Explorations of Race and Masculinity in Contemporary American Literature

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 58 – Jane Austen

Many readers have argued that Austen’s novels cultivate a narrow and self-enclosed worldview. 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.

ENGLISH 59 – The Limits of Laughter: Shakespeare’s Comedies and Beyond

Amusing, cunning and sometimes cruel, comedy is always pushing boundaries. And attitudes about what is ‘allowed’ to be said by comedians are ever changing. This may feel like a new phenomenon, but every culture has had to negotiate the limits of laughter. In this course we look primarily at William Shakespeare, one of the greatest writers of dramatic comedy, asking questions about how his humor works in the theater, whether it still works, and looking at what, and who, gets left out of the ‘happy endings’. As each text unfolds, Shakespeare also deals with issues around conventions and transgression, challenging authority, and social norms. As well as examining the mechanics of how his comedy works, we will explore the ways in which he deals with these key themes. Towards the end of the course, we will turn our attention to more modern examples of comedy looking to the stage, film, and television. This course will focus on the drama and performance of comedy, and we will experiment with directing scenes and comparing staged versions of our texts. Our core text will be Twelfth Night, but we will also interact with Shakespeare’s other comedies including Much Ado About Nothing and Midsummer Night’s Dream and modern comedies such as Fleabag.