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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 2013-14)
American Culture of the 1960s (fall semester)
A survey of the culture of one of the most turbulent eras of American history. Beginning with an examination of the Cold War culture of the 1950’s, and the various responses to it (The Beat Movement, Elvis Presley), we’ll go on to consider some of the major political and cultural movements of the time. We’ll study political speeches and manifestoes from John F. Kennedy, George Wallace, Martin Luther King, Students for a Democratic Society, Malcolm X, the Yippies, and the Weatherman Underground. We’ll examine such flashpoints of the decade as the Civil Rights Movement, the New Left, the Vietnam War, and the rise of “Second Wave” Feminism. We’ll view the films Rebel Without a Cause, Dr. Strangelove and Easy Rider, analyze the music of Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, and James Brown, and read literary work by figures such as Jack Kerouac, Norman Mailer, William S. Burroughs, Thomas Pynchon, Tom Wolfe, Hunter S. Thompson, and Joan Didion. Our emphasis falls not only on what the 1960's were, but how their meaning and significance remain a site of contemporary struggle. Summer Reading: Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.
Millennium Literature (fall semester)
They call you the Millennial Generation. When you were just a baby, your parents awaited the arrival of “Y2K” with hope and anxiety, and you’ve since made it through the approach and aftermath of the turn of this millennium. What might the literature written during your lifetime reveal about your own generation? In what ways does this literature push boundaries, just as your generation has been accused of doing? How might we define the genre of this literature? Post-modern? Post-post-modern? In this course, we will read texts written in the decades surrounding Y2K, and consider the characteristic style and themes of its genre. Included in our discussions will be the ways in which humanity’s evolving power and freedom affect our identity and well-being. Texts will include Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, Jose Saramago’s Blindness, Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club, Junot Diaz’s Drown, Zadie Smith’s “Stuart,” Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies, Edward Albee’s The Goat, John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, and selections from The Best American Poetry: 2000. Summer Reading: Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go.
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?
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.
The Southwest (fall semester)
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 and fusion. First Nation 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, Rudolfo Anaya, Sandra Cisneros, Jimmy Santiago Baca, Georgia O’Keefe, and others. Selected films, music, and sociological / historical readings will contextualize and enrich our study. Summer Reading: Jimmy Santiago Baca’s A Place to Stand.
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.
Native American Literature (spring semester)
“If Native American literature is worth thinking about at all, it is worth thinking about as literature,” argues Ojibwe writer David Treuer. This course will encourage students to approach Native American Indian literature as a locus of literary invention, instead of as an artifact. Literature is one of the cultural strengths that has allowed Native people to adapt, survive, and even thrive despite adversity. We will read emergent and innovative Native literary artists who promote a sense of resilience and resistance over the conventional themes of cultural tragedy, historical absence, and dislocation that often accompany Native characters in popular fiction (e. g., Jacob in Twilight). We will read poetry by Joy Harjo (Muscogee), John Trudell (Sioux), Luci Tapahonso (Navaho), and Simon Ortiz (Pueblo) and view films by Chris Eyre (Cheyenne/Arapaho). Novels may include Louise Erdrich (Anishinaabe), The Round House (2012); LeAnne Howe (Choctow), Miko Kings: An Indian Baseball Story (2007); Sherman Alexie (Spokane/Coeur d’Alene), The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (2009) and Flight (2007); Stephen Graham Jones (Blackfeet), Ledfeather (2008); and David Treuer (Ojibwe), The Hiawatha (1999).
Reading and Writing Memoir About Difference (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 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, 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.