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. An emphasis is placed on structured analysis of selected texts through formal and informal writing assignments including creative non-fiction, fiction, and analytical writing. Students further their understanding of the writing process, particularly as applied to the literary essay. Informed by feedback, students revise their work and, at the end of the year, create a portfolio of assignments. Texts may include a Shakespeare play, a contemporary play, a novel, and anthologies of poetry and short stories.
Grade: 10 • 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 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 Love
Every time you turn on the radio you hear about it, but what exactly is it? Is it true that “all you need is love”? Is the love you feel for your family the same as the love you feel for your friends? Is the love you feel for your friends the same as the love you feel for yourself? Is the love you feel for yourself the same as the love you feel for your possessions? This class will examine descriptions of love in songs, essays, poems, scientific studies, and films to try to make sense of this much-discussed feeling. Writing assignments will include both personal reflections and analytical responses to the texts students encounter.
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.
Border Ontologies and the New Afro-Caribbean/Latinx Literary Canon
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.
Foundational Texts of the Western Tradition
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 foundational, ancient texts and then examine some of their more modern manifestations. Readings may include Genesis, The Book of Job, Ecclesiastes, The Gospel of Matthew, Paradise Lost (excerpted), and the play, J.B., as well as sermons, stories, 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.
Harlem Renaissance: Take the “A” Train: Home to Harlem
What is and was the “Harlem Renaissance”? In what ways is it emblematic of American historical trends of migration, or of the Jazz Age and the Gatsby phenomenon? Students will sample the literature, art, politics, and the culture of “The Harlem Renaissance,” a remarkable phenomenon of the 1920s and 1930s. In addition to reading poetry, prose fiction, and non-fiction by a wide array of writers from the 19th and 20th centuries, they will study other important artistic manifestations of the Harlem Renaissance: photography, painting, music and dance. The course is planned to include full day class pilgrimage to Harlem to do a walkabout and to visit The Studio Museum, The Arturo Schomburg Center for Research, the Jazz Museum, and Langston Hughes’ home.
Introduction to Drama
This course is designed to build your understanding of dramatic literature from its beginnings through its modern iterations. Students will focus on landmark plays that exemplify major movements in theatre and drama. They will move through the plays chronologically, noting the way drama evolves throughout history and also paying attention to 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 of Sports
Through readings and films, students will try to determine the criteria that lead to the mythologizing of certain athletes and teams. What is it about these people and their performances that makes them legends? The class will examine some icons of both success and failure and will also look at examples of fair play and questionable ethics.
Native American Literature
In this course, students will look both at contemporary Native American literature (novels, memoirs, and poetry) and at traditional oral literature (including folktales, origin stories, and ritual), to try to experience these stories both as readers and as anthropologists. As students enjoy these works for their own merits, they 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.
Shakespeare: From Page to Stage
This semester, students will be focusing on magic in all its incarnations: spells, incantations, sorcery, and conjuring. The focus will be a deep, close read of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in preparation for the spring production, but we will also read The Tempest, as well as Shakespeare’s sonnets. Students will explore the ways in which Shakespeare uses magic to cast light on the wonders of language and uses language to cast light on the magic all around us. Those 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 Shakespeare’s wizardry.
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. 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.
Ancient Greek Classics
In this class, students will read one of the Homeric epics in full (either The Iliad or The Odyssey) as well as some modern texts that shed new light on these ancient stories. 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.
Is there actually something to be said for giving up on social reputation and financial security? The stability of a middle class life with a job and a mortgage is something most of us work for desperately and then sometimes regard as a trap. In this class, students will look at the literature of bohemianism and at 20th-century novels in particular. Stops along the way may include the 19th-century demimonde of Colette, the Spanish wanderings of Richard Wright, the dirty streets of Clarice Lispector’s Rio de Janeiro, and the High Sierras of Jack Kerouac.
Classics of World Literature
Students in this class will read haiku by Basho, Buson, and Issa; a work of Taoist philosophy (The Way of Chuang Tzu, rendered by Thomas Merton); an African novel (The River Between by Ngugi wa Thiong’o); Latin American short fiction (Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges); a European short novel; and more. Writing will include short analytical pieces, personal essays, haiku, and imitations.
Codes, Networks, Algorithms, and the Landscape of Digital Storytelling
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 they try to reimagine the landscape of digital storytelling.
Downtown Scene: Literature and Art in New York in the late 70s and 80s
In this course, students will enter the world of downtown New York in the 70s and 80s to be among a world of diverse artists pushing against capitalism to make art on their own terms. They will study the work of poets, writers, artists, and filmmakers who tried to capture real-life depictions of New York’s underbelly through guerrilla journalism, handmade zines and fliers, alternative music, and neo-expressionist art. Assignments may include Basquiat-like visual art, Warhol-like installations, Eileen Myles-like poetry, Spalding Gray-like monologues, and Velvet Underground-like music.
Environment in American Literature
In this course, students will analyze representations of environment in American literature through the lens of ecocriticism. The class 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 their analysis, students will note historical context, form, relations to the nonhuman, and the way nature is framed. They 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. Additionally, students will contemplate representations and responses to nature as they 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.
In Our Own Voices: 20th and 21st Century African American Autobiography and Memoir
“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.”—Zora Neale Hurston “Our relationship to the past is infinite; it ought to be more affectionate.”—Toni Morrison “A thing is mighty big when time and distance cannot shrink it.”—Zora Neale Hurston What distinguishes memoir and autobiography as genres of self-expression? What is unique about the genesis, conventions, and impact of African American memoir and autobiography? In this course students will read and write in the genre of prose non-fiction personal narrative. Writers may include Maya Angelou, Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, Michelle Obama, Malcolm X, Roxanne Gay, and Richard Wright.
Journal to Essay
In this course, students will read selections from a number of writers’ journals and from Phillip Lopate’s anthology The Art of the Personal Essay. They will keep journals and use the entries as raw materials for their own essays, which they will discuss and revise. Please note that this course asks students to write a lot, to share that writing, and to serve as critical and generous readers of others’ work.
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.
Transgender rights, gay marriage, chosen family, drag balls, asexualilty, non-binary identity: our society is brimming with ideas that would have been inconceivable a generation ago. Or would they have been? This course will invite students to look backward to tell the story of this moment. Throughout history, writers have used literature to formulate truths otherwise unspeakable. This class will look at some of these formulations to make sense of where we’ve been, and where we might go next. Readings will have a decidedly American bent. Writing will include personal reflection, creative exploration, and literary analysis.
The scholar Jerome Beaty remarks that, “The short novel can be as simple as a short story and as complex as a novel; it is a happy hybrid.” The work in this class will be reading, discussing, and writing about a number of examples of this beautiful form. In past years, texts have included works by Ivan Turgenev, Leo Tolstoy, Henry James, Kate Chopin, James Joyce, Franz Kafka, Katherine Anne Porter, William Faulkner, Nella Larsen, Gabriel García Márquez, François Sagan, Toni Morrison, Nnedi Okorafor, and others.
The American Male
Author, comedian, and actor Michael Ian Black recently wrote in the New York Times: “The past 50 years have redefined what it means to be female in America…Boys, though, have been left behind. No commensurate movement has emerged to help them navigate toward a full expression of their gender. It’s no longer enough to ‘be a man’ — we no longer even know what that means.” This course is a historical and cross-cultural exploration of what it means to be male in America. Through essays, articles, novels, and plays, students will unpack how men and boys are portrayed in literature while considering how these portrayals reflect our understanding of concepts of masculinity within American culture. Students will be asked to consider how race, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, and historical context intersect with concepts of masculinity. In addition to our literary exploration, members of the class will examine current events, popular culture, sociological research, and their own experiences as we wrestle with what it means to “be a man.”
The 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 to cover may include narrative, meditative, and lyric essays.
West Meets East
In this course, students will examine the influence of Chinese literature on Western, especially American, literature. They will begin with an introduction to the rich tradition of Chinese literature from the past three millennia, then look at how Westerners—with little access to the language or the culture—first made sense of this very different tradition. Finally the class will turn its attention to the work of contemporary scholar-poets who actually read and speak Chinese, especially the work of American-born Chinese and recently immigrated writers. Readings will include poetry and prose of Ezra Pound, Amy Lowell, Li-young Lee, and Gish Jen.
Will Power: Shakespeare, Our Contemporary
This class will make much ado about appetite, authority, and alienation along with murder, mayhem, and madness. Three tradegies set the exploratory stage, the first a political thriller just in time for the 2020 election: Julius Caesar, Othello, and Hamlet. We’ll supplement close readings and classroom dramitization with a viewing of each of the plays. If a local production is available at either Center Stage or The Chesapeake Theatre, the class will look to attend a production.
Writing as Ritual
Grades: 10-12 Throughout history, writers have claimed that their most inspired works have seemed to come from outside of themselves, as if they were simply taking dictation from a voice speaking in their ear. In fact, the etymology of “genius” connects us not to our innate talents, but to a spiritual force that comes to possess us. Writing may not be a process of invention, as we often assume, but of becoming receptive to what exists, swirling around us. Following contemporary poets, students in this class will develop rituals to cultivate receptivity and mindfulness in order to hear what there is to be heard, see what there is to be seen, and allow their minds to become homes for wandering genius. Prerequisite: You must be willing to surrender to the process.