The English department offers a curriculum that encompasses a wide variety of literary genres, periods, and themes.
In selecting courses, students are encouraged to build a program that reflects this variety. Students should also aim to take classes with different English faculty members, for each teacher brings to the classroom a distinctive style and different fields of expertise. Writing and discussion are central components of all English courses.
- Eight consecutive semesters of English, including English 9 and English 10.
- Any student taking an Independent Study must first register for an English course listed in the Program of Studies.
- Sophomores who wish to double in English first semester must have departmental permission.
Grade 9 • Required
This course introduces students to various literary genres and modes of writing, and prepares them with the reading, writing, and discussion skills that they will need to thrive in our student-centered program. Structured analysis of selected texts is emphasized through close reading, annotation, and formal and informal writing assignments that include creative non-fiction, fiction, and analytical writing. Students experiment with the structural and rhetorical elements of various genres, and further their understanding of the writing process, particularly as applied to the literary essay, through revising in response to critiques from instructors and students. Texts may include a Shakespeare play, a contemporary play, a novel, and anthologies of poetry and short stories.
Grade 10 English Classes • Required
In the fall term, all tenth graders are required to enroll in one of the sections of English 10. These courses are organized by theme, but each focuses on the writing process — brainstorming, drafting, getting feedback, revising — and on the rhetorical modes of description, narrative, comparison/contrast, analysis, and definition.
English 10: Writing About Coming of Age
“Coming of age” is a phrase that stands for growing up, developing, or maturing. These narratives are stories that deal with the experience of growing up. But what does growing up or development even mean when we are talking about human beings? Is this a linear progression toward a finish line, or more of a messy becoming? How does a person’s identity, background, or environment impact this process? In this course, students will explore these questions and many more while they encounter coming-of-age narratives found in graphic novels, short stories, poems, and films. Students will write about these narratives and also create their own coming-of-age stories. Writing assignments could include a personal narrative, an analytical essay, and an article.
English 10: Writing About Film
Students look comparatively and historically at various aspects of filmmaking, experiment with ways of describing films and moving images, and see what the art of filmmaking has to teach them about the art of writing. They read broadly in both historical and contemporary film criticism and review. Writing assignments include essays, short descriptions, appreciations, and a fragment of a screenplay.
English 10: Writing about Food
While eating food is vital for every creature on the planet, writing about food is what distinguishes humans from beasts. While the objective in this course will focus on developing a personal writing process and writing in a variety of essay forms, students will practice those skills by reading and writing about what they consume. Assignments may include odes to foods we love, restaurant and meal reviews, and food memoirs. Come to class with an open mind and a sharp fork!
English 10: Writing About Stuff
No matter who you are, you’ve got stuff—stuff you love and stuff you hate, stuff littering the hallways of your mind and stuff you trip over in the hallway to your room. In this course students will study the ways writers organize their thoughts about stuff: How do I describe my stuff? What stories does my stuff tell? How does my stuff stack up against other stuff? How do I analyze my stuff? How do I define it? By reading models of other writers, both professional and student, and trying their own essays, students will grow in their capacity to write about stuff in lucid, engaging ways.
20th Century Fiction
The twentieth century witnessed remarkable upheaval: world wars, revolutions, migrations, the decline of empire, pandemics. The literature of this period reflects and reworks these crises, on the level of style and content. Students will read a variety of different texts, with an eye to formal innovation. Though there will be some reflective and creative writing, the bulk of formal writing assignments will be analytical. Potential texts include: James Joyce, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Patricia Highsmith, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49, Tony Kushner, Angels in America, Leslie Marmon Silko, Ceremony, and Toni Morrison, Beloved.
American Woman: Representations of Women in American Literature and Culture
In this course, students will analyze representations of women in American literature and culture. They will primarily study representations of women in literature, but will also look to film, television, visual art, music, and pop culture to provide additional depth and variety to their examination. The characters and creators in this course will reflect the diversity of women in America. The course will allow a space in which to discuss the challenges and triumphs of being a woman in America, and the way representations impact the experience and expectations of womanhood. Assignments will include regular readings and short writing assignments, as well as a creative project and a final paper.
What is a borderspace? In what ways does racial and cultural hybridity complicate and enrich Latinx and Afro-Caribbean storytelling? How does space shape identity? How do migration and displacement contour literary movements and trends? This course explores the critical issues, ideas, writers, movements, and tensions central to contemporary Latinx and Afro- Caribbean literature. Students will trace the formation of border identities and circulation of border cultures in the layers of embodied histories of colonialism, migration, exile, and decoloniality stitched together by Nuyoricans, Chicanx, Cubans, Domininicans, and writers from South and Central America. The class will pay close attention to the vibrant relationship among space, place, belonging, and the literary imagination; the resurgence of indigeneity, Spanglish and code-switching, and the relationship of the writer to her or his community. Students will read poetry, drama, short story, creative nonfiction, graphic novels, and corridos to map the contemporary Afro-Caribbean/Latinx literary canon.
Etymology and Semantics
Etymology is the investigation of word origins; semantics examines how words mean what they do. Students study Latin and Greek bases, learn to tell the stories of particularly interesting words, investigate the history of English from its Germanic origins to its current status as a lingua franca, and write an essay or two. Please note: there is no way to study etymology without memorizing a lot of roots and affixes. If students do not like this sort of work and don’t like being tested on their grasp of details, they should not take this course.
Gothic novels are about monsters and love and what they have to do with each other. But of course monstrosity, like beauty and love, is in the eye of the beholder, and so Gothic is also about the influence, sometimes so consuming and transformative and dominating that it could be described as demonic, that place and people can have over us. In this course students will read two classics of the Gothic novel, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and then one novel such as Patrick Süskind’s Perfume or John Fowles’ The Collector that tests the boundaries of the genre as practiced in contemporary literature.
In this course, students will read a variety of fiction and non-fiction graphic narratives to become familiar with the historical development, literary format, and complex visual language of contemporary graphic novels. They will pay close attention to how graphic novels challenge their ways of organizing ideas and reading stories. A particular focus will be on texts that explore power, gender, identity, survival, resistance, hybridity, and joy. Students will respond to some of the questions of concern to the course in both analytical essays and creative projects.
What makes literature Jewish? Is it the subject? The author’s beliefs? Are there particular themes that run through this literature? What can we learn from it—about humanity, Judaism, ourselves? Nu, why so many questions? In this class, students will ask all of these and plenty more as they read and discuss works by many of the following writers: Cynthia Ozick, Saul Bellow, J.R. Pick, Philip Roth, and others. The class will refer often to Dara Horn’s People Love Dead Jews and her examination of present-day anti-Semitism. Students will write analytical essays, style imitations, and personal narratives.
Middlemarch vs. Moby Dick
Students will read both gigantic 19th-century novels and battle it out to determine which wins! They will potentially consider genre (adventure vs. psychological realism), gender, and “greatness.” Will these categories hold up as we explore these extremely long, extremely complex works? Let’s find out! In this course, students should be prepared to read a lot; some class time will be set aside for reading. There will be a great deal of informal reflective writing and some analytical and creative writing, but writing assignments will be short to compensate for the length of reading assignments.
Shakespeare: From Page to Stage
This class will address the timeless and timely question, What is power? Students will also explore corollary questions: How does one gain power? How do we know who has power and who doesn’t? What can one do with power? What can’t one do? Is it true, as it has been said, that “power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely”? The focus of this class will be a deep, close read of Macbeth in preparation for the spring production, but students will also read The Taming of the Shrew, as well as Shakespeare’s sonnets. Students who have been cast in the play are required to take the course, but the elective is open to anyone who is interested in the power of Shakespeare’s language.
The Poet’s Novel
Once upon a time, great epics were written in verse. Poetry was a form of storytelling. Since the emergence of Modernism, poetry has become less narrative and has come to rely on the image, fragmentation, stream-of-consciousness, and collage. What happens when a contemporary poet (who may not write narrative poems at all) tries their hand at telling a story in the form of a novel? Do the sensibilities and techniques of a poem sneak in? Do these genre crossings fundamentally change the shape of the novel? When does a novel become so poem-like that it can only be called a poem? This class will attempt to answer these questions by examining novels written by poets, either in verse or in prose. Books may include The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo, Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson, Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner, and On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong. Students will be asked to write both analytically and creatively in response to the texts, and, at the end of the semester, students will produce their own novellas in verse.
The Wild West: A Literary Exploration of American Violence, Vigilantism, and Self-Determination
Seeking an explanation for the perpetual violence—particularly, gun violence—that confuses our values and disrupts our national identity, this class will explore the roots of our passion for the stand-off. Through novels, stories, and memoirs dating back to the 19th century and extending to the present day, students will question why the desire to enforce our own justice and authority, often contrary to the rule of law, has rallied so fiercely in our culture. In addition to the outlaws and desperadoes that predominate in the mythology of the American West, students will consider the experience of enslaved and emancipated Black Americans, the legacy of the war against Native Americans, and the efforts of women to realize and express independence on the frontier.
This is an intensive writing workshop that is also about the teaching of writing. Students will write and revise creative nonfiction. In recent years, assignments have included a best earth memory, description of a real or imagined photograph, favorite song analysis, philosophical meditation, and college essay—as well as stories, poems, and AP exam responses. The focus throughout will be on the process of writing, and students will learn—through reading, discussion, role-playing, and lots of practice—the techniques of effective peer tutoring. They will tutor writers from the Lower, Middle, and Upper School. After completing the course, students will serve for the rest of their Park careers as tutors in The Michael Cardin ’85 Writing Center. Preference will be given to juniors; limited seats will be held for seniors.
Writing Workshop: Short Fiction
This class centers on the workshop experience, in which each student composes and shares a short story that corresponds to a focal point of the craft (dramatic action, setting, characterization, tone, perspective, dialogue, time management, psychological distance, the unreliable narrator, the extension of metaphor, and the delivery of statement are among the elements that we will explore). Students will read a selection of short stories to bolster their grasp of each unit of study and must be energetic about critiquing one another’s written work.
Art of the Essay
In this course, students will work toward a deeper understanding of the essay—its history, its elegance, and its inner workings. If the essay represents the mind in motion, then students will seek to harness that motion and shape it into clear, eloquent, and insightful pieces of writing. To do so, they will study the work of published essayists, write essays of their own, and discuss these works in a workshop setting. Forms covered may include narrative, meditative, and lyric essays.
Contemporary Short Fiction
In this course, students will learn how to read, analyze, and write short fiction stories. They will be reading some of the best of the contemporary short fiction form, and their responses to the work may take the form of discussion, written analysis, or imitation. The question that will lead the class into exploration is this: How does fiction get us closer to the truth?
Is a computer programmer a storyteller? Can computers help us craft new literary genres? What is a born digital text? In what ways has digital literature challenged us to rethink the structuring of language, culture, and knowledge itself? This course will help students develop a critical awareness of contemporary digital literature. Students will have the opportunity to learn about literary computational methods, analyze new forms of textuality, apply traditional close reading practices to multimodal narratives, and write their own digital texts. The class will pay close attention to writers from the Global South as students try to reimagine the landscape of digital storytelling.
Environment in American Literature
In this course, students will analyze representations of environment in American literature through the lens of ecocriticism. They will start with some foundational ecocritical theory and then move through environmental American literature in several themed units (for example: Animals, Ecofeminism, Transcorporeality, and Urban Environments). In the analysis, the class will note historical context, form, relations to the nonhuman, and the way nature is framed. Students will unpack representations of environment in order to understand their literary value, but also discern the kinds of human/nonhuman relations these representations can provoke or invite. They will contemplate representations and responses to nature as we embark on a service-learning project, The Eco Impact Project, which will allow the class to create the kind of representations that bring about sustainable human/nonhuman relations.
Foundational Texts of the Western Tradition (Bible and Literature)
From the “forbidden fruit” of the Garden of Eden to the idea of a suffering savior, our culture is deeply infused with images, themes, and questions that can be traced back to biblical and other ancient sources. In this course, students will read some of these ancient texts and then examine some of their more modern manifestations. Readings will include Genesis, The Book of Job, Ecclesiastes, The Gospel of Matthew, Paradise Lost (excerpted), as well as sermons, stories, poems, and essays. Discussion will be conducted primarily in the seminar format, so class participation will be an essential aspect of the class. There will be opportunities to write in response to the readings in both creative and analytical forms.
Indigenous American Literature
In this course, students will look both at contemporary Indigenous North American literature (novels, memoirs, and poetry) and at traditional Indigenous oral literatures (including folktales, origin stories, and ritual), to try to experience these stories and understand contemporary and historical Indigenous experiences and perspectives. As students enjoy these works for their own merits, the class will also be looking to them for an understanding of Native American politics and cultural identity, religion and folklore, ideas about personal identity and power, and views of the earth and the environment. Students will read foundational texts in the Native American novel such as Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony and Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine, as well as more contemporary work by Tommy Orange and Stephen Graham Jones.
Introduction to Drama
This course is designed to build students’ understanding of dramatic literature from its beginnings through its modern iterations. The class will focus on landmark plays that exemplify major movements in theater and drama, moving chronologically through the plays, noting the way drama evolves throughout history and the way plays manifest their respective contexts. A major focus of this course is critical reading: the ability not only to understand the surface of the play, but also to interpret what it does on a deeper level. In addition to its consideration of the plays as literature, the course includes an emphasis on staging and performance practices of each era and the cultures that helped inspire the plays. Although this is not an acting or a production course, students will engage in some acting and ponder stage design along the way. There will be in-class performances, viewings of plays, analytical discussions and writing, and a creative, multimodal project.
Literature and Philosophy from the Wretched of the Earth
The paradox in the idea of Western Civilization—democracy, freedom, slavery, genocide, forced removal, unbearable poverty, and the possibility of a new humanity—invites a confrontation. In this course, students will read literature and philosophy that speaks to the concerns the Martinican philosopher and psychiatrist Frantz Fanon excavates in his foundational text, The Wretched of the Earth. Of course, the class will also find similar ideas and observations in the writings of Herman Melville, Edward Said, Jean-Paul Sartre, Arundhati Roy, Salman Rushdie, Zadie Smith, bell hooks, Rita Dove, Toni Morrison, Kiran Desai, Lewis R. Gordon, Gloria Anzaldua, Ross Gay, Natalie Diaz, Oswald De Andrade, Wole Soyinka, Malcolm X, Primo Levi, John Trudell, Kwame Antony Appiah, Charles Dickens, and others. Class readings and conversation will focus on the catastrophic effects on the bodies, minds, and cultures of those living in the underbelly of the Empire, but they will also emphasize the tactical and creative ways that the wretched have reimagined the entanglements of Empire into acts of resistance, transformation, and joy. Students will respond to some of the topics of concern in the course in both creative projects and analytical essays.
Philosophy and Narrative Art
This course explores philosophical issues that arise in reading and interpreting narrative art. Students will examine ideas of justice, punishment, rehabilitation, doubt, pride, empathy, courage, identity, race, imagination, belonging, and autonomy. Readings will include classic and contemporary philosophical text, literature, documentary, photography, performance art, and nonfiction narrative film. Students will respond to some of the topics of concern to the course in both creative projects and analytical essays.
Poems and Lives
This is a class for those who are interested both in poetry and in how people have lived and thought in different times and places. It seems clear that there is a reciprocal relationship between writing and living, but this can work in so many ways. For starters, do we merely write what we live, or do we live differently because of how we write? And as people seeking to understand books and writers, how literally are we to take what we read? In this course, students will ask these sorts of questions as they look at and imitate the works and lives of writers from very different times and places: from the archaic Greece of Sappho to Snorri Sturluson’s late medieval Iceland to Basho’s 17th-century Japan, from John Keats’ early 19th-century England to Langston Hughes’, Lucille Clifton’s, Sylvia Plath’s, and Ted Hughes’ version of the 20th century.
In this class, students will allow every poem to be an experiment. They will play with language, attention, emotion, interaction, and structure—always asking, “What kind of poem will this kind of play make?” What kind of poem comes from sitting in stillness? What kind of poem comes from spontaneity? What kind of poem comes from confession? What kind of poem comes from collaboration? What kind of poem comes from following a strict form? What kind of poem comes from thinking of language as paint we spread on a piece of paper? Though students will engage in regular workshopping, the question will never be “How good is this poem?” Instead, students will train themselves to ask, “What kind of poem do we have here? How can it become more itself?”
Psychology and Literature
“Character is destiny” —Heraclitus
“Character is plot” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
If character is destiny, or at least plot, what is character? To answer that question, students in this class will explore theories touching on four psychological domains: dispositional, intrapsychic, socio-cultural, and adjustment. They will use their repertoire of theories to ask crucial questions about the characters they encounter: Why do they do what they do? How do their personalities determine their responses? What environmental or social factors may have affected the development of their personalities? And, of course, students will be asking these same questions about themselves.
Rebel Yell: The Collapse and Revival of the American South
This class will examine the character and influence of the American South from the surrender of the Confederacy to the present day. Students will study fiction, non-fiction, and poetry composed both by southerners and other American writers as it relates to the survival and evolution of southern values, and to the renewed (or perhaps sustained) hostility between the south and the north. The class will consider the family dynamics, prejudices, rites of courtship, work ethic, societal responsibilities and tensions, and political affiliations that distinguish the southerner in American culture, and students will contemplate the future of the region. Authors may include: William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Zora Neale Hurston, Peter Taylor, Carson McCullers, Eugene O’Neil, Albert Murray, Flannery O’Connor, and Gayl Jone
The Art of the Protest
How do artists protest social and political conditions that concern them, and is such protest art or propaganda? Though students will largely be examining written works of literature, there may also be opportunities to consider music, visual art, and film. The class will also read short works of criticism that attempt to define and evaluate political art. Finally, students will attempt to create their own artful protests. Potential texts include: Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, Claire Vaye Watkins’ Gold Fame Citrus, excerpts from Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, Joan Didion’s Sentimental Journeys, James Baldwin’s Everybody’s Protest Novel, excerpts from Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook, and excerpts from Cathy Park Hong’s Minor Feelings.
The best way to get to know someone is to ask them a question. In this course, students will study the art of asking questions. Using the interview as the tool to go beyond the initial query, they will ask individuals and groups about their lives and in so doing, they will hear stories, gain insights, and learn more thoroughly and personally about the people, the ideas, and the particulars of their world, leading to greater and deeper understandings. Students will explore different types of interviews and will unpack a range of models as they work toward publishing their own collection of unique pieces. Texts may include pieces from The New Yorker, Longform, Humans of New York, and The New York Times magazine, as well as interviews from Fresh Air, This American Life, How to Be Amazing, and other podcasts.
You Can’t Go Home Again: The Exile in Contemporary World Literature
This class will study the experience of literal and spiritual homelessness in the post-war world. Through fiction, poetry, memoir, and journalism, students will consider the refugee, the political exile, the fugitive, the quixotic wayfarer, and the lost sentimentalist, homesick and hopeful of return. Students will contemplate the forces that have compelled exile over the last 80 years, but even more central to the curriculum is the question of how one reconciles oneself to—or revolts against—the prospect of being away.