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 of studies that reflects this variety. Students should also aim for the experience of being taught by all members of the English faculty, as each teacher brings to the classroom a distinctive teaching style and special field of expertise. 

Writing is a central component of all English courses. Students compose critical essays and write in different literary styles and genres.

Requirements

Eight consecutive semesters of English, including English 9 and English 10. 

Any student taking an Independent Study must first be registered for an English course listed in the Program of Studies. 

Sophomores who wish to double in English first semester must have departmental permission.

 

Full Year Course

English 9

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.

Fall Semester Courses

10th Grade English Classes

Grade: 10 Required

In the fall term, all tenth graders are required to enroll in one of the sections of English 10 listed below. 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 bodies                                                  

Are you a body or do you have a body? When are you in control of your body? Is that control just a lie you tell yourself? Even the most fundamental questions about bodies and embodiment are complex and fraught. Students dwell on big questions about the fragility, unruliness, and pleasure that come along with embodied existence. They read bits of short story, memoir, and essay that cast bodies in weird and varied light, and write about experiences, desires, and fears.

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. Students 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 Now                                           

With journalism as our theme and the daily New York Times as our text, this class will read and write news articles, opinion pieces, features articles, and reviews. Gathering information and conducting interviews are standard components for writing each type of article; revising for publication is a goal, but not a requirement. Other activities include reading about and discussing current events, viewing films related to journalism, and understanding the New York Times crossword puzzle. 

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 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 essays written by students in the class, each classmate will grow in his or her capacity to write about stuff in lucid, engaging ways.

ENGLISH 10: WRITING ABOUT STYLE

Sheila Heti and Heidi Julavits open their book, Women in Clothes, with a series of questions (excerpted here): “What’s the most transformative conversation you have ever had with someone on the subject of fashion or style? What is your cultural background and how has that influenced how you dress? Do you remember a time in your life when you dressed quite differently from how you do now? Do you address anything political in the way that you dress? How do institutions affect the way you dress? When do you feel most attractive?” These questions (and others) will help form the basis of this semester-long study of style—in clothing, in attitude, and in writing. Throughout the course, students will test the idea that a writer’s style is as distinctive as the trends that surround us, trends in fashion, speech, music, and sports. Their investigation will take them to their closets, bookshelves, and culture as they pull out and write about distinctive pieces that are pleasing and shape their bodies as well as minds.

CRITICal race studies (RACE, ENTERTAINMENT, SCIENCE, AND POWER)

Grades: 11-12

What is race? What does race do? The central objective of this class will be to understand the historical, cultural, sociological, and literary underpinnings of the thing we call “race.” Students will address these questions by reading and writing about cultural and sociological theory, memoirs and personal essays, and historical documents (primary and secondary) that are instructive about the origins and contours of racial categorization. In this class, students will focus disproportionately on constructions of blackness and whiteness; however, the class will also discuss other racial constructions and identities. Writing assignments will largely be short and reflective opportunities to process dense and complex texts. Students will be looking especially at powerful sites of racial knowledge-making like science, entertainment, and business.

THE CRUISE

Grades: 11-12

In this course, students will read the literature of literal and metaphorical travel, write some of their own, and reflect on the ways in which travel shapes their minds and the ways in which their minds shape their travels. Texts may include Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, Peter Matthiessen’s The Snow Leopard, Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, and Jack Kerouac’s Dharma Bums.

etymology and semantics

Grades: 11-12

Etymology is the study of word origins; semantics examines how words mean what they do. Students study Latin and Greek bases; begin to tell the stories of particularly intensive 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 learn etymology without memorizing a lot of roots and affixes. If you don’t like this sort of work and don’t like being tested on your grasp of details, please do not take this course.

fiction writing

Grades: 11-12

In a course designed to strengthen their abilities as prose writers, students will analyze the work of both published fiction writers and fellow classmates in order to gain a working knowledge of craft terms and concepts such as voice, character, point-of-view, setting, dialogue, pacing, and metaphorical language. How does the short story work? How do we draft stories that narrate one character’s specific experience and simultaneously address larger universal themes? While students will acquire a familiarity with major fiction writers, a large part of the course will focus on the workshop, in which they will study their own work to identify and hone the elements that make for successful fiction writing.

fOUNDATIONAL TEXTS OF THE WESTERN TRADITION (BIBLE AND LITERATURE)

Grades: 10-12

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 include selected books of the Hebrew Bible and New Testament, 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.

GENDER TROUBLE

Grades: 11-12

Simone de Beauvoir famously wrote, “One is not born a woman, but becomes one.” In this class, students will explore ways to think about what gender is when one begins with the assumption that it is not determined by biology. In what ways do individual experiences “trouble” what one assumes gender to be? The class will engage with novels, poetry, and films that present various gender narratives to formulate individual theories of gender.

LITERATURE OF NATURE

Grades: 11-12

Interest in nature writing is growing, not only because of the salience of environmental concerns, but also because of the variety and excellence of the writing being produced. In this course, students will study both classic works, such as Henry David Thoreau’s “Walking,” and contemporary pieces, like Barbara Kingsolver’s “High Tide in Tucson.” Responding to these texts, students will write personal and analytical essays and imitations, and create some nature writing of their own. 

reading or writing classroom

Grades: 11-12

This class begins with a false division: students will designate themselves either readers or writers. Each reader will plan an ambitious personal reading plan for the semester; each writer will plan an ambitious writing schedule. Everyone—readers and writers—will be responsible for sharing their work with the class through reader-response blogs, writing workshops, or student-led discussions. If you’ve got a shelf of books you’ve been longing to read or if you just haven’t had time to start your novel, this is the class for you.

shakespeare: PAGE TO STAGE

Grades: 11-12

“She speaks poniards and every word stabs.” So complains Benedick about his feisty friend, Beatrice. The two are caught in a “skirmish” of words, both swearing they will never marry. And therein lies the challenge for their friends, who are determined to bring them together despite their protestations. The task appears insurmountable: Benedick launches insults and Beatrice returns them with equal vigor. In this course, students will follow the couple who “loves to hate” and the adventure of their courtship. As a parallel plot, the class will also watch jealousy consume Claudio, Benedick’s friend, driving him to break his engagement with Hero. How do couples find their way to the altar when so many interferences drive them apart? With a deep dive into the text, Much Ado About Nothing, students will explore the beautiful language, compelling characters, and witty word play that make this one of Shakespeare’s best comedies. Supporting this study will be a reading of Shakespeare’s sonnets and one other text.

This class is linked with the Spring Production, taught in the same block. It is highly recommended, but not required, that students cast in the production take this course. Leads will be required to enroll. 

WRITING PRACTICUM

Grades: 11-12

This intensive writing workshop is also about the teaching of writing. Students compose and revise a great deal of creative non-fiction. In recent years, assignments have included best earth memory, favorite song analysis, description of a real or imagined photograph, philosophical meditation, and college essay—as well as stories, poems, and Advanced Placement exam responses. The focus throughout is on the process of writing, and students learn—through reading, discussion, role-playing, and lots of practice—the techniques of effective peer tutoring. They tutor writers from the Lower, Middle, and Upper Schools. After completing the Practicum, students serve for the rest of their Park careers as tutors in The Michael Cardin ‘85 Writing Center. Preference is given to juniors. There are limited seats for seniors.

YOUR POETS LAUREATE / POETS AND INSTITUTIONS

Grades: 11-12

You probably know the national bird and the national anthem, but the national poet? Does the U.S. have one of those? It does! At the time of this writing, that United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry is Juan Felipe Herrera. Students in this class will read and closely examine work by recent Poets Laureate, including Herrera, Charles Wright, Natasha Trethewey, and Kay Ryan. In that regard, Your Poets Laureate will be a typical poetry class, in which students analyze poems, wonder at their meanings, and imitate their styles. But in addition to undertaking close literary analysis, students will also consider larger questions about poetry’s intrusions into public life. What happens to a poet when they become Poet Laureate? What happens to a poem when it’s inscribed on a bridge, made into an epigraph, or read at an inauguration? Such questions will drive the work of the class.

Spring Semester Courses

american feminism in literature and history

Grades: 10-12

On January 21, 2017, close to 500,000 protesters converged on Washington to provide a visual and vocal objection to the inauguration of Donald Trump. Like a confluence of rivers, this gathering brought together a swirl of cultures, races, genders, and ages and flowed inclusively down the streets of D.C. For many, it also launched the next wave of feminism in the United States, a wave that had previously been defined in more narrow terms and by more exclusive membership. This course takes as its starting point the Women’s March on Washington and examines the history of Feminism in literary and historical terms. Working through second and third waves, through definitions, actions, stories, and laws, the class will arrive at this inspired moment of our time and consider where the collective goes next. This course is team taught and may be taken for history or English credit.

ART OF THE ESSAY

Grades: 10-12

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 they will seek to harness that motion and shape it into clear, eloquent, and insightful pieces of writing. To do so, students 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.

ancient greek classics

Grades: 10-12

Is it better to live a long, quiet life or die young making an indelible mark on the world? Read Homer’s timeless epic, The Iliad, and immerse yourself in the dilemma of a young man who must decide how he will answer that question. In addition to The Iliad, students read selected Greek tragedies that explore the fates of other Trojan War heroes. Discussions 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.

crime and culpability

Grades: 10-12

What is a crime? Why do people commit crimes? How do we conceive of punishments? And how do we identify unjust laws and find justice? In this course, students will consider moral, practical, and ethical questions related to crime through a literary lens. Topics may include the genesis of criminal behavior (including mental illness and religion), sentencing and the death penalty, the rule of law and police power, white collar crime, victimless crimes, and crimes against the state. Students will read short stories, articles, and at least one novel. 

he said/she said

Grades: 10-12

By looking not at theoretical works but at the personal experiences of characters in fiction, memoir, and essays, this course will focus on how men and women are similar and different, and how they complement and bedevil each other. Students will ultimately ask whether maleness and femaleness (whatever, exactly, those are) can be reconciled—in the world or in oneself. Texts will include works by Eve Babitz, Virginia Woolf, Colette, Jane Austen, Toni Morrison, and Clarice Lispector.

infinite jest

Grades: 10-12

In this course, students will spend the whole semester with David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. At just over 1,100 pages (200 or so of which are endnotes), and with a complex structure, it will take a lot of time and care to read. The challenge of the read, however, is worth it—in fact, its challenge is inextricably tied to its various and rich rewards. Jest is the sort of text that tilts worlds—that sends one’s head spinning. In this course, students will dive into the lovely novel as a group, collectively making sense of its world. Jest is known for its subtle and powerful commentary on entertainment, addiction, and worship, but it’s also full of beautiful sports writing, big philosophical questions about morality and happiness, and it’s just plain fun. Students will do a lot of reading, keep a book journal, write a few blog posts, and do some reflective philosophical writing. Because simply reading the book will take a lot of time, there will be relatively little formal writing in this course.

the interview

Grades: 10-12

Humans find each other endlessly fascinating—their lives, interests, and secrets. And, in today’s media, the interview has become a vehicle for finding out more about each other. Consider TV and radio talk shows that bring in guests for conversation, the columns in newspapers and magazines that provide snippets of a person’s activities, and investigative journalism that, by asking good questions, produces electric exposes. In this course, students will focus on the art of asking good questions, and from the interviews they conduct, will produce segments for print, television, and radio, write monologues, profiles, and immersive pieces, and publish oral histories. The class will work from models of writing as students prepare to write their own. Texts may include The New Yorker, Longform, Humans of New York, The Paris Review, Storycorps, and Jails, Hospitals & Hip Hop and Some People, Interviews from Fresh Air, and more.

journal to essay

Grades: 10-12

In this course, students will read selections from several 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’ll discuss and revise. Please note that this course asks students to write a lot, to share that writing, and to serve as critical and kindly readers of others’ work.

learning lessons: exploring the transfer of wisdom

Grades: 10-12

In this course, students will encounter a series of black adult voices sharing wisdom with a younger generation, and in many cases, the transfer will focus on racial conflict in America. Each reading has a complex and nuanced relationship around issues of race and status, and such relationships are what this class will struggle to dissect and explain in discussions and writings. Readings to likely include, Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, Toni Morrison’s Playing in the Dark, Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Wendell Berry’s The Hidden Wound, and Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees. Writing assignments will include analytical essays, personal responses, and a style imitation.

MASS INCARCERATION AND THE SURVEILLANCE STATE: LITERATURES OF IMPRISONMENT AND SURVEILLANCE

Grades: 10-12

In this class, students will first attempt to understand how governmental surveillance and the threat of and literal imprisonment of bodies shape the national culture. By examining texts on specific prisons like Guantanamo Bay and Rikers Island, students will ask ethical and legal questions about seemingly extralegal practices that have, as of late, become normalized, such as the imprisonment of children in adult facilities or the sometimes decades-long detention of foreign nationals labeled “combatants.” Students will also ask questions about what constitutes torture and how that factors into the legality and morality of the largest prison system in the world. Relatedly, the class will look at troubling practices like money bail. Ideally, the class will get to some fundamental questions about the nature of privacy and the nature of freedom through the works of theorists, including Angela Davis and Michelle Alexander, as well as autoethnographic pieces by former inmates, and dystopian fiction. Student writing will include theory quizzes, opinion pieces, and a research project.

nEW RELEASES: CONTEMPORARY FICTION

Grades: 10-12

In this class, students will read very recently published fiction by contemporary women writers. Texts will include a novel by Jesmyn Ward, a new collection of short stories by Ottessa Moshfegh, and at least one piece elected by students themselves. Reading new releases as a group will allow the class not just to revel in the books but also to join critical conversations about them.

pOEMS: ALL KINDS

Grades: 10-12

This course aims to help students understand poetry more deeply and enjoy it more fully. Using two anthologies: A Book of Luminous Things and The Making of a Poem, students will read all kinds of poems and learn how they create the effects they do. Students will also write analytical and personal essays, imitations and parodies, and original poems.

READING FOR CREATIVE WRITING

Grades: 10-12

In this course, students will ask texts to divulge the secrets to their successes. What makes one’s favorite short story so enthralling? What makes a favorite poem sing? What makes one’s favorite essay so hilarious? Students will try to answer these questions and use their answers to help guide their own writing. Moving from genre to genre, the class will experiment with new literary techniques, using imitation as a tool to find students’ own literary voices.

SHAKESPEARE IN THE POST-COLONY

Grades: 10-12

In this course, students will read four major pieces of literature: Season of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih; its intertext, Othello, by William Shakespeare; The Tempest, by William Shakespeare; and an adaptation thereof, A Tempest, by Aimé Césaire. Salih’s novella and Césaire’s play, both written in the 1960s, reimagine Shakespeare for anticolonial purposes. Students will study them both as pieces of art and as pieces of history — ones that provocatively engage Shakespeare’s global reach.

sHORT NOVEL

Grades: 10-12

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 include reading, discussing, and writing about several examples of this beautiful form. In past years, texts have included works by Henry James, Kate Chopin, Joseph Conrad, Anton Chekhov, James Joyce, Franz Kafka, Stefan Zweig, Katherine Anne Porter, William Faulkner, Gabriel García Márquez, Alice Munro, and others.

stUDIES IN GENDER AND SEXUALITY: LITERATURE OF GENDERS

Grades: 10-12

In this class, students will explore challenging questions about gender and sexuality by reading works by groundbreaking gender theorists and activists that range from memoir to philosophy. Authors will likely include Judith Butler, Dean Spade, Patricia Hill Collins, bell hooks, David Savran, and Cordelia Fine, among others. Some of these authors will argue that not only gender, but also biological sex—even biology itself—are importantly socially constructed apparatuses that attempt to name us, over determine what we may do, and ultimately bring us under the control of institutional power. Because this class will involve some advanced theory, much of the writing will offer students opportunities to demonstrate a knowledge of the complex texts we read. Students will, however, write reflectively, thinking about their own places in the world and their own relationships to these systems of classification.

THE TIMES (READING AND WRITING NON-FICTION) 

Grade 12

The title of this class refers to the newspaper and the context of news. What’s happening in these times, and what was happening in journalism in those times, specifically during the Watergate era. How does journalism succeed and how has it failed? Students read The New York Times and use it both as a textbook to learn how to read newspapers and as a model for writing commentary and reviews. They also watch a number of classic movies and documentaries. Students who have taken English 10: Writing About Now are likely to find some repetition in broad topics and a few movies and assignments, but the news changes every day. Open to seniors only.

THE VOICE

Grade 12

Over the course of their high school career, students have studied and analyzed how writers and artists sound on the page, in a song, and on the stage. In this class, students will focus on cultivating their own distinct and authentic voice. Participants will look at the most memorable voices of writing, song, and speech, including Martin Luther King, Jr, Maya Angelou, Tupac Shakur, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Toni Morrison, Nas, and Joan Didion, and will use them as models for developing a voice that carries authority and personality. This seminar will have an emphasis on short works with assignments that include writing essays, monologues, lyrics, songs, and poems. Students will share their work with each other and with a wider audience. This course can be taken for English or performing arts credit.

WEST MEETS EAST

Grades: 10-12

In this course, students will examine the influence of Chinese literature on Western, especially American, literature. The class will begin with an introduction to the rich tradition of Chinese literature from the past three millennia, then examine how Westerners—with little access to the language or the culture—first made sense of this very different tradition. Finally, students will turn their attention to the work of contemporary scholar-poets who 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.