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Required CoursesOpen ElectivesSenior Electives

Required Courses

Freshman English

Freshman English focuses on writing as a process and on reading culturally diverse works which center on the journey as a defining experience in the creation of personal identity. Students concentrate on the process of developing their essays through such stages as pre-writing, outlining, first and second drafts, peer reviews and metacritical essays. Students are introduced to elements of style while also learning how to structure arguable persuasive essays, compelling narratives, and imaginative poems. They acquire the fundamental patterns of critical thinking and the vocabulary necessary for written and spoken analysis of literary texts. Other skills important to a student’s Upper School career, such as class participation, note-taking, recitations and presentations, reinforce the school values of collaboration and community. The literature of the course includes Homer's The Odyssey, Shakespeare's The Tempest, Lan Samantha Chang's Hunger, as well as selected poems and short stories reflecting diverse voices and points of view."

Sophomore English

Sophomore English is a genre survey course designed to examine questions of personal and cultural identity, to develop analytical and persuasive skills, and to impart the vocabulary necessary for literary analysis. The fall begins with a unit entitled “Postcolonial Literature: The Empire Writes Back,” a study of the work of writers from the former British Empire. Students examine poems by Achebe, Walcott, Yeats, and Wright; Ngugi’s novel, A Grain of Wheat; and Fugard’s play, “Master Harold”…and the boys. In the winter, students continue their exploration of identity and culture—including issues of race and “othering”—with Shakespeare’s Othello. The second semester begins with a formal consideration of lyric poetry, with students focusing on “fixed forms” such as the villanelle and the sestina, as well as on “shaping forms” such as the ode and the elegy. Students also write a paper and teach a lesson on a Romantic or Victorian poem. “Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote” arrives, students examine The Canterbury Tales, and again return to the topics of identity and culture through a consideration of class, occupation, and religion. They end the semester with a study of the essay. Over the year, students write essays that include literary analyses and creative narratives, generated through a collaborative process that includes multiple drafting, peer editing, and metacritical reflection. Participants give two formal presentations based on their writing. Students memorize and recite the School Chapter, the opening lines of The Canterbury Tales, and two lyric poems. Class traditions include The Winter’s Tale, Chaucer Day, and the sophomore epistolary project.

Junior English

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, and a consistent interrogation of the ways in which categories of gender, race, and social class have inflected the question of what it means to be an American. Readings include selections from Benjamin Franklin, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain, Charles Chesnutt, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Allen Ginsberg, Toni Morrison, and Junot Diaz. 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.

Open Electives

Creative Writing

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.

Poetry Writing (Global Online Academy; Fall 2014)

This poetry-writing workshop explores identity and seeks to answer the question 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 draft and revise poems, provide and receive frequent feedback, and read a range of modern and contemporary poets whose work is grounded in place. Sample assignments include audio and video recording, an online journal, study of performance poetry, peer video-conferences, a video interview with a renowned poet, collaborative poetry anthologies, and a class publication. All writers will have the opportunity to send their work to international contests and publications. Note: This online elective course cannot be used to meet Catlin Gabel's English requirements.

Fiction Writing Workshop (Global Online Academy; Spring 2015)

This course connects students who are interested in creative writing (primarily short fiction) and provides 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 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 read and discuss 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.

Senior Electives

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 2014-15.)

Fall Semester

From Romance to Novel 

We examine the development of the novel and narrative styles from the medieval "roman," or romance to famous novels of the 20th C. The initial part of the course tracks elements integral to the medieval romance, such as betrayal, separation, conflict, and gender roles. We explore how these themes are elaborated in novels from the modern period, which focus on love against the backdrop of war. Readings may include Beroul's Tristan and Iseult, Madame de Lafayette’s The Princess of Cleves, Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities, Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms, Rebecca West's Return of the Soldier, Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient.

The Southwest

The Southwest, no mere tourist destination, has been formed through a rich and turbulent history. As we will see, “the Southwest” has not always been “south” or “west” to its occupants. It contains some of the Western Hemisphere’s oldest living cities, including Taos Pueblo and Acama. It has been the site of longstanding civilization, agriculture, artistry, and cultural conflict andfusion. Native American peoples, Spanish explorers, Mexican settlers, and many waves of later immigrants have encountered each other here. As such, we have inherited one of our most vibrant artistic and literary traditions from the Southwest. This course will explore Southwestern literature and culture, drawing readings from the works of Leslie Marmon Silko, Sandra Cisneros, Jimmy Santiago Baca, Cormac McCarthy, and others. Selected films, music, and sociological / historical readings will contextualize and enrich our study.

Southern Gothic 

This course will explore the Southern Gothic tradition in literature, film, and music. We will examine characteristics associated with the gothic impulse—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. If the gothic reveals what we might call the “dark side” of American life, what cultural fears and anxieties do we find expressed here? We will read texts by Paul Lawrence Dunbar, Charles Chesnutt, RichardWright, Erskine Caldwell, William Faulkner, Shirley Jackson, Eudora Welty, Elizabeth Spencer, Flannery O’Connor, Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams, Toni Morrison, Joyce Carol Oates, Breece D’J Pancake, Harry Crews, Raymond Carver, and Karen Russell. Summer Reading: Geek Love by Katherine Dunn.

Modernity and Modernism

An exploration of the culture of industrial capitalism called Modernity, and asurvey 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; fictionfrom Oscar Wilde, Joseph Conrad, James Joyce, D. H. Lawrence, Virginia Woolf, and Jean Rhys; drama by Samuel Beckett; and cultural criticism from MatthewArnold, 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.

Shakespearean Visions

This course is centered on William Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies: Othello, Macbeth, Hamlet, and King Lear. While we will luxuriate in the beauty of The Bard’s finest, we will also explore twentieth-century echoes of his visions, including Djanet Sears’s Harlem Duet, Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Samuel Beckett’s Endgame, and Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood and Ran. In order to grasp Shakespeare’s impact on modern theater, we will begin with a reading of the medieval morality play, Everyman. Summer reading: Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley.

Spring Semester

Monstrous Transformations

In this class, 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, and we will examine how these boundaries are imagined, maintained, crossed, and transgressed in the transformations dramatized in the following texts: Ovid’s Metamorphoses (8 CE), Marie de France’s “Bisclavret” (1170?), Charles Chesnutt, Selected Stories (1899), Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886), Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis (1915), Satyajit Ray’s “Khagama” (1987), Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In (2008), and selections from M.T. Anderson’s Feed (2002) and Benjamin Percy’s Red Moon (2013).

Reading and Writing Memoir About Difference

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 course, we will explore the range of genres, styles, and techniques evinced in the work of great memoirists. We will focus in particular on memoirs that address the exigencies of difference, drawing from the work of Maxine Hong Kingston, John Haney, Alison Bechdel, Julia Alvarez, Jimmy Santiago Baca, James Baldwin, Jon Krakauer, Zora Neal Hurston, and others. While reading prose memoir, poetic memoir, food memoir, and memoir-comic, we will produce our own autobiographical compositions through a term-long writing process. 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 stories with the broader Catlin Gabel community.

Faust Through the Ages 

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 Europe and its many iterations in recent popular culture. Tracing its evolution through a rich history of adaptation in literature, drama, music, film, and art, we will read Faust adaptations by Marlowe, Shakespeare, Goethe, Oscar Wilde, and Sherman Alexie. We will alsoevaluate F.W. Murnau’s 1926 silent film, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor’s staging of Marlowe’splay, Svankmajer’s surrealist Faust, and music by Schubert, Berlioz, Liszt, Robert Johnson, the Rolling Stones, Queen, U2, and Tenacious D.

Class, Gender and Race in American Film 

Film was arguably the most important and influential cultural form of the twentieth century, and its status as a mass medium hasrendered it a key site for the reflection and interrogation of American social and political issues. This course takes an introductory look at shifting attitudes toward, and the subtle interactions between, race, class and gender in America, as reflected in the culture’s movies. We’ll learn the basic concepts of academic film analysis and then use those tools to unpack the complex and often contradictory attitudes toward difference in films from the silent era to the present day. We’ll also read some sociological material and film criticism to enhance our understanding of the issues we discuss. While the syllabus is still taking shape, films may include Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation and Broken Blossoms, La Cava’s My Man Godfrey, Sturges’s Sullivan’s Travels, Curtiz’s Mildred Pierce, Ford’s The Searchers, Hitchcock’s Vertigo, Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, Lee’s Do the Right Thing, and Scott’s Blade Runner.


The primary focus of this course is Dante Alighieri’s Inferno, the first canticle in his poetic masterpiece, The Divine Comedy (La Commedia). 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 T.S. Eliot, and Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit.