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 Art
How are we meant to look at or “read,” say, a painting that just looks like a huge splatter? Is there something to be understood? Or felt? On the one hand, we “read” photographs, paintings, and other works of visual art naturally, simply by looking at what they depict. But there is also a world of pleasures and information to be accessed once we begin to be interested in how they depict or imagine what they do. And there is even more to be considered when we look at an image in historical and social perspective. In this class, students will look at, pore over, read up on, and write in a wide range of forms and styles about a wide range of visual works. They will also visit works or art, and experiment with making their own images.
English 10: Writing About Culture
If aliens came to Earth, with no context for humanity, what would they make of our customs? What would they think of those buzzing light boxes we cling to? What would they guess we do in the rooms of this building, sitting in circles and scratching away with long sticks? In this class, students will try to see our culture afresh, as if for the first time. They will act as anthropologists, describing what they see. Students will act as guides, teaching others how to exist in our world. And they will act as cultural critics, analyzing what their culture produces to determine what they value.
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.21
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: Excess and Restraint
In this course, students will examine works by writers interested in excess: whether of desire, wealth, behavior, or style. Works will both thematize excess or restraint or be written in an excessive or restrained way (sometimes both!) Articulating what it means for the style of a novel, play, or poem to be “excessive” or “restrained” will be part of their work. The class may consider the style of these works as a mode for expression of identity, including vectors such as class, race, gender and sexuality. Possible texts include: Pale Fire, by Vladimir Nabokov, Passing, by Nella Larsen, The Crying of Lot 49, by Thomas Pynchon, Mrs. Dalloway, by Virginia Woolf, Angels in America, by Tony Kushner, The Beast in the Jungle, by Henry James, Sula, by Toni Morrison, and Housekeeping, by Marilynne Robinson.
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 mid-semester project and a final paper.
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.
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.
Music helps us dance and work, meditate and commune with the divine, hum the ineffable and sell stuff. In this class, students will listen to a wide range of music and consider why it is so important to them. As they write about their own connections to music, they will be in the company of journalists like Lester Bangs and Ben Fong-Torres, as well as poets, novelists, and thinkers who have written on music from ancient times to the present and around the world: from Sappho, Montaigne, and Li Bai to Thomas Mann, Amiri Baraka, and Ralph Ellison. Students will read one monograph on an album of their choosing from the 33 ⅓ series and a novel such as Ruth Ozeki’s The Book of Form and Emptiness. Assignments will include an annotated playlist, a musical autobiography, an homage to a great work, and a character study of a musician or scene.
In this course, students will read works from several 19th century Russian authors including Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Checkov, and Gogol. Through short stories, plays, and novels, students will explore the way these writers reflect the social and political concerns of their day while also illuminating universal ethical questions and psychological truths.23
Poet Robert Creeley famously conjectured, “Form is never more than an extension of content.” In this class, students will be testing out this idea. Does form matter? Does it make a difference? Would a pop song without a chorus still be a pop song? Would Shakespeare’s sonnets have the same meaning if they didn’t have fourteen lines? Is a limerick necessarily silly? Does the brevity of the haiku lend it its profundity? This class will do some experimentation to find out. Students will begin with traditional forms (the haiku and the sonnet, for instance), move to contemporary forms (such as Jericho Brown’s duplex and the contemporary pop song), and end with inventing their own forms. They will analyze individual poems, hypothesize about forms as a whole, and conduct their own creative writing experiments.
Camus says of the hero of his 1942 novel, The Stranger, “he is condemned because he does not play the game.” So what is the value of playing or not playing the game, and should those who won’t or can’t be punished for it? In this course, students will consider the figure of the outcast in literature and the truths that people tell when they see the social world from outside. Works may include Camus’s The Stranger, Ellison’s Invisible Man, and Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre.
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.
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.
Bob Dylan and His Influences: Lyrics in Literary, Historical, and Social Contexts
Bob Dylan said, “I consider myself a poet first and a musician second. I live like a poet and I’ll die like a poet.” In this course, we’ll study the poetry and music of Bob Dylan paying special attention to the historical, musical, sociological, and artistic implications of his work. In addition to understanding who Dylan influenced, we’ll look at who and what influenced him. From Rimbaud to Kerouac, Leadbelly to Alicia Keys, we’ll attempt to trace the origins of one artist’s creative work. In our assignments, which may include poems, song lyrics, essays, and podcasts, we’ll seek to be inspired, too. This course may be taken either for an English or an arts credit.
Crime and Culpability
In this course, students consider complex legal and ethical questions through literary texts. The course begins with the question, “What is crime?” and proceeds to explore deeper questions, such as “Is there a meaningful distinction between legal and moral wrongs?” “Can an individual be culpable for acting within an immoral system?” “How does upbringing affect culpability?” “Can there be culpability where there is no criminal intent?” and “Are there times when the commission of a crime is justified?” Readings include short stories, plays, and novels as well as philosophy case studies and magazine articles. Most of the writing assignments for this class will be analytical.
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 this course, students will consider how writers set about to tell the story of a family. How does a novel or poem accommodate the voices of each member? How do power dynamics within the family affect the way the story is told? Does family affirm individual identity or restrict it? Are the dynamics of a chosen family analogous to those of a biological family, or can distinctions be drawn? The texts students consider will create space for them to examine how gender influences family dynamics, and sometimes the class may read the family as a metaphor for nation or race. Possible texts include: Maud Martha by Gwendolyn Brooks, Light in August by William Faulkner, The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai, The Tradition by Jericho Brown, Mrs. Bridge by Evan S Connell, and Beloved by Toni Morrison.
Irish History and Literature
The Irish poet William Allingham couldn’t imagine what we would teach in this course. On November 11, 1866, he summed up the history of Ireland in a diary entry: “Lawlessness and turbulency, robbery and oppression, hatred and revenge, blind selfishness everywhere–no principle, no heroism. What can be done with it?” So where did the Ireland that we know come from?–the Ireland of noble freedom fighters, brilliant poetry, beautiful music, and earthy wit? In this course, students will study the history of how a poor, despised “subject people,” thought incapable of governing themselves, worked to recover and reimagine their own traditions through 500 years of British occupation. The class will begin with an examination of tribal Celtic Ireland, see how Britain colonized and displaced the cultural structures of traditional Ireland, and then examine Ireland’s post-colonial self-reinvention, including the reinvention of Irish myth and legend, following the fights for self-determination and the violent troubles between Catholic and Protestant Ireland from their origins to the present. This course may be taken either for an English or history credit.
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.
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.
Public Digital Humanities
This course connects student learning in history and literature with the methods, approaches, and skills of using digital tools to collaborate with local communities, historical societies, museums, and libraries in projects focusing on public conversations. The primary emphasis of the course will be on local and regional history, literary, and cultural heritage, but students will make connections to topics of national and global interest. This course will allow students to do archival research, conduct oral histories, build digital presentations, analyze and write non-fiction narratives. Students can also stage performances, organize art installations, curate photographic exhibitions, and deliver public lectures on literary and historical issues. This course may be taken either for an English or history credit.
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.
Sympathy for the Devil
The image of the devil is at once so familiar and so strangely various. He is somehow both a monster reeking of decay and sulfur, and a sophisticated dandy promising pleasures and undermining sureties. By the time the devil meets the young Mississippi blues player Robert Johnson at the crossroads offering him heavenly guitar skills in exchange for his soul, the image of the devil has gathered elements from the Bible and the figure of Dionysius in the Classical Mediterranean world, from West African religion and Caribbean voodoo, from American folklore and the European Faust tradition. In this course, students will look at the various cultural threads that inform the figure of the devil and try to decide what it means. Readings may include Zora Neale Hurston’s versions of African-American folk tales, Milton’s Paradise Lost, Goethe’s Faust, Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, and Wole Soyinka’s The Bacchae of Euripides.
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.
The Oedipus Cycle
Do we make ourselves and our successes and failures or are we made by our family histories, by our parents’ mistakes, or by the fates themselves? When we try and fail does it really accomplish anything? Can we really redeem those who suffer? Sophocles’ Oedipus Cycle continues to ask questions that are unanswerable but lead students to their own fruitful examination of themselves and their worlds. Texts will include Sophocles’ Oedipus plays, as well as works by contemporary authors meditating on the nature of fate and misfortune.
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. The class will 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, students will look to attend a production as a group.