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Freshman English focuses on writing as a process and on reading from culturally defining texts of Western civilization. Students concentrate on the process of developing their essays through such stages as pre-writing, outlining, first and second drafts, and peer edits. Students are introduced to elements of style while also learning the importance of introductory paragraphs, topic sentences, textual evidence, and strong conclusions. They acquire the fundamental patterns of critical thinking and the vocabulary necessary for written and spoken analysis of literary texts. Imaginative expression is encouraged and, in the course of the year, original poems and personal narratives emerge. Other skills important to a student’s Upper School career, such as class participation, note-taking, and proofreading, form an essential part of the course. Oral skills develop through recitations and presentations. The literature of the course includes Oedipus the King, The Odyssey, selections from the Hebrew Bible and New Testament, and Romeo and Juliet, as well as selected poems and short stories reflecting diverse voices and points of view.
Sophomore English is a genre survey course designed to develop analytical and persuasive skills and impart the vocabulary necessary for literary analysis. Fictional narratives, including a survey of American short stories, begin the year’s study. Winter is devoted to epic poetry, and spring to lyric poetry and to drama. Readings include Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Beowulf, The Canterbury Tales, Romantic and Modernist poetry, and Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Students write essays that include literary analyses and creative narratives, generated through a collaborative process that includes multiple drafting, peer editing, and metacritical reflection. In the spring, participants give two formal presentations based on their essays. Students memorize and recite “Caedmon’s Hymn,” the School Chapter, the opening lines of The Canterbury Tales, and three lyric poems. Class traditions include Chaucer Day, The Winter’s Tale, and the sophomore epistolary project.
Junior English offers an opportunity to study some of the key texts of American literature from the colonial to the contemporary period, with a special focus on the periods of the American Renaissance, the late nineteenth century, and Modernism. Readings include selections from Benjamin Franklin, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain, Charles Chesnutt, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Henry James, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Allen Ginsberg, and Toni Morrison. The course continues development of students’ analytical abilities by drawing on and extending the interpretive skills developed in English 9 and 10, and also seeks to increase students’ reading speed in anticipation of the demands of college humanities courses. Writing assignments continue the development of narrative and analytical skills, and include a personal narrative designed to serve as a first draft for the college application essay. Over the course of the year, students continue to develop their presentational abilities; by the end of the year, they are responsible for planning and teaching the majority of class sessions.
The creative-writing elective is open to students in the Upper School who want to develop their individual voices and hone their skills as writers of poetry and prose by participating as members of a writers’ workshop. We will craft a mix of genre explorations that will allow us to read and experiment in lyric poetry, short prose fiction, and the brief personal essay. Reading is light, and each student is responsible for submitting either one draft or one revision each week for collection in two term-long portfolios. During each convivial workshop, students discuss examples from the world’s great writers and study the work of members of the class. This class will meet two times per week for the entire year; upon completion, students will receive a half-credit. Note: This elective course cannot be used to meet Catlin Gabel's English requirements.
Playwriting 2.0 (Global Online Academy; spring semester 2013)
In this course, students will examine the skill, form, and structure of a diverse set of contemporary American playwrights and use those conversations to inform the creation of original work. Course materials will include many works about other countries and cultures. The global diversity of the online classroom will enable students to explore the implications of American writers' telling stories about other places, even as they gain a deeper appreciation for the complexity of American experience itself. In any given week, students will be responsible for analytical and creative writing assignments that allow consideration of each play as both literary work and creative inspiration. Analytical assignments will range from short journal prompts to longer thesis-driven essays. Through a series of writing games and exercises, the class will work collaboratively to write and develop stories, with the goal that every student will end the course with a fully realized one-act play. Note: This online elective course cannot be used to meet Catlin Gabel's English requirements.
Global Voices: Poetry Writing (Global Online Academy, Fall 2013)
This will be a poetry-writing workshop that explores identity. How are you shaped (or not) by the community you live in? Our goal will be to create a supportive online network of writers that uses language to discover unique and mutual understandings of what it means to be a global citizen from a local place. Students will investigate who they are, where they come from, what issues matter to them, and how they compare to teens across the globe. They will draft and revise poetry and prose, learn to provide constructive peer responses, and create podcasts and video interpretations of poems. Reflective writing will also be an integral part of the learning process. Readings will center on contemporary poetry but will also include art, audio, and film. Projects will include portfolios of writing, collaborations, independent study, and an online class publication. All writers will be encouraged to send their work to international contests and publications. Note: This online elective course cannot be used to meet Catlin Gabel's English requirements.
Global Voices: Fiction Writing (Global Online Academy, Spring 2014)
This course will connect students who are interested in creative writing (primarily fiction) and provide a space for supportive and constructive feedback. Students will gain experience in the workshop model, learning how to effectively critique and discuss one another's writing in a digital environment. In addition to developing skills as a reader within a workshop setting, students will work to develop their own writing identities through a variety of writing exercises. The course will capitalize on the geographic diversity of the student body by eliciting stories that shed light on both the commonalities and differences of life experiences in different locations. Additionally, we will investigate the notion of “place” by reading the work of authors from around the globe. Students’ essential responsibilities will be twofold: to act as writers and readers. Both will require participation in discussions of various formats within our online community, as well as dedicated time outside of class reading one another’s work and writing pieces for the workshop. Note: This online elective course cannot be used to meet Catlin Gabel's English requirements.
Seniors must successfully complete one English class during each semester. Students often lead the seminar-style senior electives. Fall courses include research papers; in the spring courses, public collaborative projects are required. (Note: Offerings in senior English are slightly different each year, with new course listings released each May. The following courses are those offered in 2012-13.)
The Family as Microcosm (fall semester)
The family unit often serves as a microcosm for a culture and its values. While the “ideal” family can reveal the ideals of a culture, the more common dysfunctional family can represent the struggles and conflicts at play in the macrocosmic society. This course will examine the family as it is depicted in literature, and consider ways in which a family’s dynamics can illuminate our insights into culture. As we seek to define roles such as “mother” and “father,” we’ll also explore how the notions of “home” and “childhood” can determine, and are determined by, a society’s values. Texts will include Sophocles’ Antigone, William Shakespeare’s King Lear, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Rappacini’s Daughter,” Henry James’s Washington Square, selections from James Joyce’s Dubliners, Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie, Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, Chinua Achebe’s “Marriage Is a Private Affair,” Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “Innocent Erendira,” Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping, Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Jhumpa Lahiri’s “Interpreter of Maladies,” and selected contemporary American poetry. Summer reading: Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections.
Misfits, Murderers, and Mayhem: Southern Gothic Literature (fall semester)
Characters with incestuous desires, fervent mystical beliefs, and Doppelgängers, figures marked by disfigurement and disability, Byronic heroes and virgin/whores, bachelors and spinsters, madmen and hysterical women, demon babies and literal “skeletons in the closet” all populate the various traditions of the gothic. This course will explore the Southern Gothic tradition in literature, film, and music including a range of works from the tales of Edgar Allan Poe to the fiction of Cormac McCarthy and the pop culture images of HBO’s True Blood. We will explore characteristics associated with this tradition—the idea of the “grotesque,” the use of folklore and myth, dark humor, social disorder, graphic violence, freaks—and discuss how writers used these to explore ideas about race, class, gender and sexuality, tradition, and family relationships. We will analyze concurrent political transformations: the eighteenth-century ascendancy of the bourgeoisie, the nineteenth-century’s industrial revolution, the legacy of slavery, American Reconstruction, and modernism. We will read texts by Washington Irving, Edgar Allen Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Thomas Wolfe, William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, Carson McCullers, Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams, Shirley Jackson, Eudora Welty, Harper Lee, Erskine Caldwell, Zora Neale Hurston, John Kennedy Toole, Cormac McCarthy, Nick Cave, Stephen King, and Toni Morrison. If the gothic explores what we might call the “dark side” of American life, what cultural fears and anxieties do we find expressed here? How have American writers used the gothic to unsettle their readers, using specific literary strategies to disturb various political, philosophical, and social ideas? How did historical, intellectual, sexual, racial, and cultural issues influence the development of the Southern Gothic school, and how have the texts we read here, in turn, shaped our current understanding of the tradition? How has Southern Gothic literature inspired modern iterations in art, film, and music?
Modern Queer Literature: From Whitman to Winterson (fall semester)
This course will trace the rise of the modern queer canon from 1840 through the late 20th century. In studying selected literary works of Walt Whitman, Virginia Woolf, James Baldwin, Tennessee Williams, Rita Mae Brown, Jeanette Winterson, and others, we will focus on the way these authors develop an intertextual dialog. Participants will explore the construction of gender roles, how conceptions of sex and gender have changed over time. How do gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered authors express themselves amid a potentially hostile, “heteronormative” society? This and other, related questions will preoccupy us in discussion and in our writing this term. This course will include film, music, and selected sociological / historical reading to contextualize and enrich our study.
Modernity and Modernism (fall semester)
An exploration of the culture of industrial capitalism called Modernity, and a survey of some of the literary work that has emerged in response to that culture, often designated by the capacious term “Modernism.” The class will begin by reading selections from three so-called “Prophets of Modernity”: Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Sigmund Freud. We will then use the framework offered by these three authors to analyze a number of literary works from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. We will read poetry by William Butler Yeats, Ezra Pound, H. D., and T. S. Eliot; fiction from Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde, Joseph Conrad, James Joyce, D. H. Lawrence, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, and Virginia Woolf; drama by Samuel Beckett; and cultural criticism from Walter Pater, Charles Baudelaire, and Walter Benjamin. All of these authors are concerned, in one way or another, with the plight of the individual in an increasingly alienating environment, with the relations of men and women, with the dynamics of race and social class, and with the problematic role of culture in the new “modern” world. These will be our concerns as well.
Shakespeare and His World (fall semester)
In addition to reading a selection of Shakespeare’s histories, tragedies, and comedies, and viewing film adaptations, we examine relevant historical material, including primary sources. Students have the opportunity to team teach some of the plays, and individually present a Shakespeare act to the class. As we read Elizabethan drama and poetry, not only will the student develop the vocabulary necessary to critique drama, but also an understanding of the cultural forces that informed Shakespeare’s work.
Faust Through the Ages (spring semester)
This course explores the Faust myth from a variety of disciplinary and creative perspectives. “To sell one’s soul,” “to make a deal with the devil,” or even “to beat the devil at his own game,” are all expressions that have retained their currency for centuries. The legendary Faust, a man who sells his soul to the devil to achieve knowledge and pleasure, has appeared repeatedly in world literature since the 16th century, serving as a symbol for the folly, daring, and danger in pursuing human ambition at any price. We will examine the development of the Faust motif through time, from the legend’s origins in the myth of Prometheus, the Tao Te Ching, the Epic of Gilgamesh, and Genesis to its emergence in Renaissance-Reformation Germany. Tracing its evolution through a rich history of adaptation in literature, drama, music, film, and art, we will engage with questions such as: Who was Faust and why has he fascinated writers, artists, and thinkers for centuries? What is the Faustian nature? What facets of the Faust motif have ensured its lasting relevance through 400 years of historical and social transformation? How does each age adapt the myth to its own concerns, and where do the elements of continuity and change lie? What does the prevalence of the Faust motif in the 20th and 21st centuries say about humanity and the times we live in? We will read Faust adaptations by Christopher Marlowe, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Washington Irving, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Charles Baudelaire, Friedrich Nietzsche, Oscar Wilde, Paul Valéry, Mikhail Bulgakov, Oswald Spengler, Bertolt Brecht, and Thomas Mann. We will also evaluate F.W. Murnau’s 1926 silent film, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor’s staging of Marlowe’s play, Svankmajer’s surrealist Faust, and music by Gounod, Berlioz, Liszt, Wagner, Mahler, Robert Johnson, Queen, U2, and Tenacious D.
Film Studies (spring semester)
An introduction to film studies that seeks to develop students’ skills as critical readers of what is arguably the most influential art form of the twentieth century. We will familiarize ourselves with the varieties of film practice (camera work, editing, sound, lighting), as well as with narrative, psychoanalytic, and semiotic theories of film meaning. Films analyzed include Edmund Porter’s The Great Train Robbery, D.W. Griffith’s Broken Blossoms, Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin, Howard Hawks’s His Girl Friday, John Ford’s Stagecoach and The Searchers, Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane, John Huston’s The Maltese Falcon, Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window and Vertigo, Jean Luc Godard’s Breathless, Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde, Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, Quentin Tarrantino’s Pulp Fiction, and David Fincher’s The Social Network. We enrich our viewing by reading texts in film theory and criticism from authors such as Sergei Eisenstein, Andre Bazin, Laura Mulvey, and Pauline Kael. Much of our attention is devoted to questions of how various films both reflect and construct modern culture, especially in terms of gender, race, and individual and collective identity.
Infernos (spring semester)
The primary focus of this course is Dante Alighieri’s Inferno, the first canticle in his poetic masterpiece, The Divine Comedy. After a close reading of this fundamental text, we will explore some more recent literary representations of hell, and consider the ways in which they echo Dante’s unique vision. Included in our discussion will be the way the journey to the underworld serves as a transformative experience for its hero. In addition to Inferno, texts will include Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, poetry by Samuel Taylor Coleridge and T.S. Eliot, Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit, and Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now.
Monstrous Transformations (spring semester)
In Monstrous Transformations we will explore what it means to be human, and what it means to be “civilized.” Human identity depends on boundaries created by factors as diverse as culture, religion, science, race, gender, sexuality, and class. Through the dramatized transformations in texts such as Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Casare’s Asleep in the Sun, and through films later in the course, such as Blade Runner and Let the Right One In, we will examine how these boundaries are imagined, maintained, crossed, and transgressed.
Visual Memoir: Your Story as Traditional and Alternative Text (spring semester)
As you think about leaving home and childhood’s end, you may find yourself reflecting on your life to date. The liminal state of the spring-term senior presents a ripe opportunity for memoir. In this team-taught interdisciplinary course, we will explore the range of artistic genres, styles, and techniques evinced in the work of great memoir artists – from Maxine Hong Kingston to Craig Thompson, Jimmy Santiago Baca, Anna Deavere Smith, Errol Morris, Gordon Parks, Sally Mann, Anne Marie Flemming, and Frida Kahlo. While reading and viewing prose memoir, documentary film, poetic memoir, dramatic memoir, food memoir, and memoir-comic, we will produce our own autobiographical projects through a term-long creative process culminating in a non-traditional memoir piece (film, art, installation, etc.). Shorter-term analytical assessments, a creative imitation, and presentation projects will help us engage with and learn from the best in the field. As part of our culminating experience, we will share selections from our work with the broader Catlin Gabel community. Important note: this course will meet for an additional class period during each seven-day cycle, and upon completion students will receive .25 art credit in addition to .5 English credit.