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: 2022-2023

ENGLISH 10 – Elements of Poetry and Prose
Fall. 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. 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. 5 meetings weekly. Required of all members of Class III. Writing intensive course. Sophomore 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. 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 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. 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. 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 – Politics, Power, and the Artist
Fall. 4 meetings weekly.

“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 42 – Imagined Communities
Fall. 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. 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. 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. 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. 4 meetings weekly.

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 – Global Speculative Fiction
Fall. 4 meetings weekly.

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 – Jane Austen
Fall. 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.

ENGLISH 49 – The Limits of Laughter: Shakespeare’s Comedies
Fall. 4 meetings weekly.

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 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. Our core text will be Twelfth Night, but we will also interact with his other comedies including Much Ado About Nothing, Midsummer Night’s Dream and Taming of the Shrew.

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
Spring. 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 52 – Reading Beyond the Book: Essays on Popular Culture
Spring. 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 – Little Women and its Afterlives
Spring. 4 meetings weekly.

This course will examine the enduring appeal of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women from the nineteenth century to today, seeking to understand why so many writers–such as Julia Alvarez, Margaret Atwood, Jhumpa Lahiri, Zadie Smith, Maxine Hong Kingston, and more–cite Little Women as a source of inspiration. We will wade deep into the world of the March sisters, analyzing Alcott’s novel affectionately and critically, as enthusiasts and as scholars. Little Women is a closely observed portrait of childhood, yet it also raises more “adult” questions about gender, race, sexuality, and history–questions we will explore together. Alongside Little Women, we will investigate some of Alcott’s other writings, such as her wryly self-deprecating journals and her pseudonymously published scandalous sensation stories. In watching multiple film adaptations of Little Women, we will compare directors’ choices in retelling Alcott’s novel and consider how those choices shape Alcott’s legacy. Our analysis of Little Women will be supplemented by scholarly articles and nonfiction essays, and we will travel to Orchard House in Concord to experience the place where Alcott spent much of her life. Toward the end of the semester, we will read fiction by contemporary writers who have been influenced by Alcott, tracing threads that connect these writers over centuries of literary history.

ENGLISH 54 – Classical Mythology
Spring. 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 55 – Multigenerational Narratives
Spring. 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. 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 – Creative Writing: Poetry
Spring. 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 58 – Nineteenth-Century British Literature
Spring. 4 meetings weekly.

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 59 – Women at Work
Spring. 4 meetings weekly.

Women have always worked, but in many cultures and periods of history, their work was largely in the domestic sphere, conducting small scale businesses and caring for members of the family. In our current culture, most women will expect to work, not just for themselves or for their families, but for institutions, bigger business and a wider public. Still many of the stories told about women’s lives leave out the drama of the workplace. In this course we will look first at early writing on women as economic agents – considering ground-breaking texts like Bronte’s Jane Eyre and Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. We will then look at more contemporary writing which investigates the intersection between race, class, culture and gender as women navigate the workplace. Texts may include novels like Adichie’s Americanah, Murata’s The Convenience Store Woman and Reid’s Such a Fun Age. We may also bring in short stories by Lucia Berlin, and even look at film and blogging as media perhaps more ‘cutting edge’ than the novel.