Academic Program
Upper School

English and World Literature

English and World Literature

Through the study of a variety of literary texts, the Upper School English and World Literature curriculum helps students to develop their interpretive abilities and to hone their analytical reading and writing skills. 
Each yearlong sequence for Grades 9 and 10 explores thematic resonances among the texts, which include the major genres of the novel, short story, poetry, drama, and film. Semester electives, which range widely across genres and global settings, offer juniors and seniors an intensive experience that is designed to build knowledge, offer diverse perspectives, and deepen students’ understanding of our rapidly-changing and interconnected world. Our program offers a foundation in reading and writing skills and, at the same time, reflects through its curriculum expanded definitions of culture. Students’ work takes a variety of forms: expository, analytical, informal and creative writing; teaching presentations; oral presentations and speeches; and film productions and projects. Most importantly, we seek to inspire a lifelong love of reading and writing. 

Upper School English and World Literature Curriculum

List of 3 items.

  • English 9: Fate and Folly

    English 9 uses fruitful pairings of literary texts to explore driving questions about the human experience: the need for a suitable home; the desire to create; the desire for power; the experience of oppression; and, throughout, the redemptive power of love. Our units of study include poetry and the conventions of literary analysis; our texts include When the Emperor Was Divine, Genesis, Frankenstein, Macbeth, Things Fall Apart, and Purple Hibiscus. Through frequent and varied writing assignments, students develop their skills as critical thinkers, persuasive speakers, and powerful writers. Throughout the year, the work in English 9 builds on two, interrelated pursuits: the importance of careful, logical analysis of rich texts and the artful, controlled expression of precise insights.
  • English 10: Agency and Constraint in American Literature

    In English 10, the literature helps students to understand the America we have inherited from previous generations. These works also inspire students to dream, articulate, and enact the America that they seek to create through their active, informed, and empowered citizenship. Central texts include: "Self-Reliance," The Scarlet Letter, The Great Gatsby, and Beloved. Through personal and analytical writing, students explore pressing questions about American citizenship and identity. Students sharpen their ability to read deeply and to write with great precision as well as to develop their individual voices.
  • Grades 11-12: Elective Offerings

    Latin American Literature: Magic and Realism
    This class, which features 20th-century Latin American novels, poems, and short stories, asks students to consider the multiple ways magical realism reflects and, simultaneously, distorts the cultural, social, and historical realities of Latin American writers. Students will wrestle with the formal eccentricities of Latin American narratives, whose fragmentary, non-linear structures complement these authors’ re-envisioning of what is “real” or “magical.” Authors may include Juan Rulfo, Gabriel García Márquez, Mario Vargas Llosa, Machado de Assis, Clarice Lispector, Jorge Luis Borges, Silvina Ocampo, and Samanta Schweblin. 

    Rebels and Fighters: Literature of the Jewish Experience
    This course explores historical events that shed light on the troubling nature of anti-semitism and those that openly rebelled and fought against that prejudice. In Bernard Malmud’s novel The Fixer, we encounter the fictional retelling of the story of Mendel Bellis, a Russian Jew who is falsely accused of murdering a Christian boy in 1911. We then confront the Holocaust, the cataclysmic result of anti-semitism through the study of Art Spiegelman's graphic memoir Maus, that tells the story of how his parents survived the Holocaust. Throughout the course we will explore the nature of Jewish identity and how it intersects or comes in conflict with religious and political beliefs. The plays The God of Vengeance by Sholem Asch and The Labor of Life by Hanoch Levin, essays by Adrienne Rich and Natalia Ginzburg, and the diary by Hungarian / Israeli author Hannah Sennesh round out the reading for this course.

    Eco Literature
    The Southeast Asian writer Amitav Ghosh has recently argued that Western novels cannot help us grapple with the ecological crisis because they are complicit with the very colonialism that created climate change. This class asks how literature can help us to overcome colonial habits of mind, and to recognize nature’s power and our vulnerability. What new forms and genres can give us the emotional and imaginative tools needed to battle denial and cultivate realism, resilience, and sustainability? Students will write analytical essays comparing stories, plays, and at least one film, as well as shorter non-fiction reflecting on their personal and emotional relationship to the earth and the changing climate. Readings and viewings will include Amitav Ghosh, The Great Derangement, and The Gun Merchant, Craig Santos Perez, “Love in a Time of Climate Change,” Chantal Bilodeau, Sila, Madeline Sayet, “What We Give Back,” and Bong-Joon Ho, Snowpiercer

    Literature of Indigenous Peoples
    In this course, students read the literature of peoples indigenous to the North American continent. The course begins with stories whose roots lie in the pre-contact oral tradition of these peoples. The focus then shifts to works from the last fifty years, including literature from a range of genres - novels, tales, oratory, essays, poems, songs and films. To avoid generalizations about Indigenous peoples, course materials are based on tribal identities as well as specific geographic and cultural regions. Nevertheless, common themes of traditional ecological knowledge, sovereignty, resistance to colonization, revision of stereotypes and recovery of identity are explored. Texts may include works by N. Scott Momaday (Kiowa), Velma Wallis (Gwich’in), Leslie Marmon Silko (Laguna Pueblo) and Layli Long Soldier (Oglala Lakota).

    Freedom Writers
    This course will begin with an examination of 19th century writers Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs, whose determination to live free or die changed the history of the nation. From there, we will explore the writing of three towering 20th century Black intellectuals: W.E.B. Du Bois, James Baldwin, and Audre Lorde. Finally, we will read the works of a number of contemporary Black writers whose prose responds to the past and imagines the future of Black lives in America. We will discuss the ways in which each writer speaks with power and acuity to their turbulent times and to our own. Their courageous visions, subtle arguments, and rich formulations are models for the power of language to effect meaningful change. Contemporary writers might include Claudia Rankine, Imani Perry, Kiese Laymon, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah, among others. 

    Studies in Poetry: Contemporary Poetry and Poem Writing
    In Studies in Poetry students learn to see, think, and feel in poetry. Students work on expanding their negative capability as they build an understanding of how poems speak. Types of poems we discuss, practice and write about include: identity, ekphrastic, shape, erasure, political, tritina, sestina, villanelle, pantoum, ars poetica, kasen renga, zuihitsu, odes, and poems which feature diverse linguistic worlds. Students themselves find additional poems we look at together. Students advance, edit, and revise drafts of their analytical and poetic writings and video productions with the help of written feedback and one-on-one personal consultations. The class takes a field trip to Poets House or to the Dodge Poetry Festival and hosts the US Poetry Reading. Students end the course with a substantial personal series of linked poetry they can be proud of, and they send some of their poems out into the world.

    Mystery Literature
    How do detective and mystery stories hold together, what desires and fears drive them, and what secrets do they tell—or try to hide? We will read detective fiction, mysteries, and thrillers to understand the structure of narrative, as it moves from riddle or puzzle, to logical investigation, to denouement. We will begin by scrutinizing the first half of an anonymous mystery story to see if we can guess whodunnit. Then, we investigate the proto-detective Greek tragedy Oedipus Rex, before turning to the odd case of Edgar Allan Poe—the inventor of the genre—in “Murders in the Rue Morgue” and “The Purloined Letter.” From there, we connect the dots to Poe’s “golden age” inheritors, Arthur Conan Doyle, and G.K. Chesterton, and the hard-boiled and suspense novelists Walter Mosley and Patricia Highsmith. The trail ends at neo-noir film, either Memento or Chinatown, and a postmodern parody by Jorge Luis Borges. Students will write analytical essays about narrative and story structure; creative pieces imitating golden-age and hard boiled style; and an optional detective story of their own.

    Literature of the Mind and Body
    The literature in this course will follow the cycle of life—from birth to death. How do people care for one another when they are unwell and vulnerable? How do we fare when we are tested by the difficulties of motherhood, war, parental, and societal conflict, sickness and the threat of death? Our reading will explore birth and motherhood in Doris Lessing’s novella, The Fifth Child, young adulthood and parent conflict in the plays What the Constitution Means to Me and Fences, illness and parental shame in Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, the shock of war in Kurt Vonngut’s Slaughterhouse Five, and the love and wisdom that can emerge when people face sickness in Sigrid Nunez’s recent philosophical novel, What Are You Going Through?
    Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
    Well, not us! In this course, we will immerse ourselves in the writing of 20th-century celebrated novelist and essayist Virginia Woolf. Known for her radical innovations in the expression of subjectivity, Woolf reinvented the novel by heightening its ability to capture the contingent and fleeting experiences that make up life. Her writing reveals how the personal, the poetic, and the political are inevitably intertwined, and in this course students will become comfortable with the way that her prose paints human experience as a confounding, multifaceted thing. While learning about the intellectual, artistic, and political concerns and innovations that took place between the two World Wars in Europe, we will read two of Woolf’s novels (one which will certainly be To the Lighthouse) and a handful of her essays and letters.

    Crossing Borders: Strangers in a Strange Land
    This course considers the nature of citizenship and justice. What happens when a citizen of a country does not share the ideals of those with whom that citizen lives? What happens when a poor person lives amongst the rich and sees how democracy fails those at the bottom? What happens if an undocumented immigrant works hard to care for a family but is unwelcome by those in charge? Students will spend time in Algeria, England, Pakistan, India and the United States. Readings will include: Albert Camus’s sharp critique of colonialism, The Stranger; Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire, a gripping account of a Muslim man exploited by ISIS jihaddists; Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger, a bracing satire of corrupt democracy in India; and Karla Conejo Villavicencio's The Undocumented Americans, a moving portrait of immigrants in The United States.

    East Asian Literature
    In this course, students will read a myriad of East Asian texts in relation to Buddhist, Taoist, and Confucian ideas. Some texts will be traditional (Monkey King: Journey to the West and Tao Te Ching), white others will be contemporary (Convenience Store Woman and I'm Waiting For You) so that students consider the relationship between tradition and modernity in East Asian countries. By the course’s end, students will have encountered mind-bending perspectives about the nature and purpose of existence and will come to understand how these perspectives shape East Asian culture today.

    Kazuo Ishiguro
    This course will examine the writings of Nobel-prize winning novelist and screenwriter Kazuo Ishiguro, who was born in Japan and raised in England. This genre-crossing transnational writer is known for his evocative, haunting portraits of children caught between cultures and generations (The Unconsoled) and of adults stifled by duty and obligation (The Remains of the Day). He has also written science fiction about artificial intelligence (Klara and the Sun) and cloning (Never Let Me Go) along with screenplays, most recently with Bill Nighy in Living (2022). Students will write analytical essays comparing the different genres of Ishiguro’s writing and his early and late themes, along with personal commentaries and journal entries focusing on his prescient and insightful treatment of late 20th and early 20th century life. The course will include at least two films.

    Caribbean Literature: Place, Inheritance, Loss and Resistance
    The Caribbean is the site of complex, overlapping diasporas: African, Asian, and European. Its multiplicity of races, languages and cultures has shaped the region's literature. This course will ask questions such as: How does the Caribbean acknowledge its past and present selves? How are race, gender and community constructed in this multicultural and multilingual setting? What traditions, values and norms have Caribbean writers inherited from their predecessors? What new forms, languages, and ways of being emerged and continue to emerge in this transnational space? The course will include literature in several genres (poetry, short fiction, essays and novels), and students will be exposed to many styles of music, film and dance created by Caribbean artists. Authors studied may include Danticat, Kincaid, Cliff, Walcott, Dennis-Benn and Naipaul. 

    This class explores just a few of Shakespeare's many plays. In our conversations and in our writing, we will focus on what it means to build an interpretation by reading deeply and thinking critically. By reading and analyzing carefully, we consider what it means in literature to understand the human condition. Critical analysis, explication and rhetorical skills help us find meaning on the page and on the stage.

    The Epic and the Novel: Odysseys
    A long, long time ago, 18th-century English author Henry Fielding famously wrote that the novel, just then emerging, was an epic poem in prose. By reading Homer’s The Odyssey and Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon, students will be able to test that theory themselves. Beyond making a literary argument about form, this course will come to terms with the privilege traditionally associated with epic poetry, personified by the character of Odysseus. By reading Morrison’s Song of Solomon in relation to the epic on which her novel was modeled, students will go on a literary odyssey themselves, uncovering the brilliant ways that Morrison reshapes the epic tradition to tell (or sing) the story of a Black man on his own journey to find his past and identity.

    Studies in Drama
    In Studies in Drama, students read plays with their full imaginations. What happens between the lines of dialogue? Students consider the merits of various productions for plays, such as The Bacchae, The Sheep Well, A Doll's House, Rhinoceros, The Good Person of Szechwan, Far Away, Topdog/Underdog, and Bondage. Students write comparative essays, notes to the actors, and an imitative scene of their own. Which specific strategies do these playwrights employ and what is their effect on the audience? What should the play look like if it were put on today?

    Studies in the Novel
    Storytelling, of course, is as old as the first human civilizations. For all of its popularity today, however, the novel is a fairly new literary invention. What is it about the novel that seduces its readers and keeps them in its grip? In this course we will explore the ways in which the novel has been defined and redefined over time by authors around the world. Students will learn about formal elements of the novel, such as narrative irony, free indirect discourse and focalization. By reading Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary, along with other novels that may also include Their Eyes Were Watching God and Aura by Carlos Fuentes, we will learn how the novel makes its arguments and changes our perspectives.

    Creative Writing
    What does it feel like to make things up that exist only because we imagine them? How does the act of writing alter how we understand ourselves and the greater world? How do we revise our work? We will read, discuss, and emulate the craft of other writers as we try our own hand at creative fiction, creative nonfiction, and more. Shorter writing practices earlier in the course help students warm up for the substantial final project which they will design to reflect their individualized interests within their chosen genre. Students will attend a public reading and will send some of their work out into the world.

    Film Studies
    Students study how narrative films combine images, words, sounds, music, and cinematography to tell rich and powerful stories. We also read a number of short stories that are the basis for successful films and learn how a work of literature can be used as a foundation for a screenplay. Students not only write about films, but they also have the opportunity to write screenplays and use these screenplays as a basis for their own short movies. Films studied include: a moving coming-of-age tale, The 400 Blows by Francois Truffaut; Hitchcock's thrilling masterwork Psycho, Talk to Her, Almodovar's lovely comic and tragic meditation on love; and Do the Right Thing, Spike Lee's gripping examination of race conflict in the United States. Stories studied include fiction written by Raymond Carver, Andre Dubus, Mary Gaitskill, Jon Raymond and Daphne du Maurier.

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