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English Courses

English Class23

After Class IV, in which all students take the same English course, students may choose from among several electives offered in each of the remaining three years. Students new to Milton make this choice shortly after enrolling, in consultation with the Registrar’s Office. Returning students make a choice for the following year in consultation with their current English teacher.

Class IV English

This course emphasizes basic skills in reading and interpreting major literary genres, in writing clear, coherent exposition, and in developing a shared vocabulary for talking about writing and literature. Texts include a novel read over the summer, a Shakespeare play, anthologies of short fiction and poetry, and examples of personal narrative. In addition to its focus on literary analysis, the course includes a comprehensive survey of grammar and writing skills that are applied to and practiced in students’ writing throughout the year.

Class III Electives

All Class III English courses build on the foundational skills students developed in Class IV English. To that end, students will learn four specific approaches to critical essays: explication, classification, comparison/contrast, and concession/assertion. All Class III English students will also take department tests that cover sentence style, punctuation, and grammar. All courses will study at least two tragedies, one from ancient Greece and one by Shakespeare or a later author. The four versions of Class III English are Perspectives, Founding Voices, Performing Literature, and Seeing Literature. Each of these courses is of comparable difficulty, with similar amounts of reading and writing. The following descriptions illustrate the content of each course in more detail.

Founding Voices: Literature from the Ancient World through the Renaissance
This course will explore texts that have shaped the world’s literature and influenced writers and readers from early times to the present. Through units on epic heroes, drama, short-form poetry, and storytelling, we will discuss themes such as the hero’s journey, the ethical implications of cultural values, and the role of the individual in the world. After summer reading, the course will begin with Gilgamesh, the oldest story in the world, and will likely include texts such as Homer’s Odyssey, The Ramayana, The Sundiata, Dante’s Inferno, Tang Dynasty poetry, and The One Thousand and One Arabian Nights.

Performing Literature
This course explores how culture and society use literature to articulate, process, and address greater issues in contextual and modern settings. Through a mixture of classical and modern works, students will engage in a critical study of all genres of literature through several modes of performance, including oral interpretation, scene staging, poetry readings, and dramatic analysis. Through this mode of performance and discovery, students in Performing Literature will seek to glean not only a nuanced understanding of our texts but, through lifting them off the page, re-examine them in new light and through a three-dimensional lens.

Perspectives: Genre & Culture
Examining texts grouped by genre to create a basis for comparison, students will explore major literary themes such as coming of age, tragedy, love, and the conflict between the individual and society. In class discussions and writing assignments, students will have opportunities to consider questions of how genre becomes part of a literary work’s cultural, historical, and social context and how different literary traditions give shape to (and are shaped by) the stories people tell one another. Recent reading lists have included short stories, novels, plays, and poems by authors such as Chinua Achebe, Edwidge Danticat, Terrance Hayes, Ernest Hemingway, Nella Larsen, Ada Limón, Tim O’Brien, and Charles Yu.

Seeing Literature
From the imagery of a poem to the point of view of a short story or novel, literature often encodes important visual messages and commentary on human perspective in words. This course examines a diverse raft of literary works with special attention to the perspectival project within literature. With traditional books at the forefront, the course will also use paintings, films, and graphic novels to deepen understanding of the human complexities of seeing at the heart of each text, as well as to embrace the reading and writing goals of the Class III curriculum. Titles may include The Handmaid’s Tale, Maus, and Persepolis.

Class II Electives

American Literature
This course offers a survey of American literature and encourages an exploration of American culture, past and present, through its literary figures. The form and content of the readings offer great variety, and students’ written responses range from literary criticism to creative imitations of styles. Texts will include The Scarlet Letter and Their Eyes Were Watching God, as well as a wide selection of other classic and contemporary works. Students who have taken United States History in Class III or are taking it in Class II find that these courses complement each other.

Contemporary Literature in Context
This course guides students in approaching literature from a number of analytical lenses. Beginning with close reading—the detailed examination of a variety of texts for what the language will yield—the course moves to grouping texts by genre, by common theme, by historical period, and by a single author. In the late spring, the class applies all of these approaches to a single work, studying the text closely while also considering its form and theme, the period from which it came, and the influence of events in the author’s life. Past units include Hemingway, civil rights, the feminist movement, and the Vietnam War.

Literature and the Environmental Humanities
This course introduces students to the environmental humanities, a growing field of interdisciplinary research focused on the relationship between human beings and the greater-than-human world we inhabit. While the environment grabs headlines today because of the visible impacts of climate change, the roots of the present crises go back more than five hundred years. Through readings that span the 16th through 21st centuries, we will examine the rise of the ideas that humans stand apart from an exploitable planet and that nature is distinct from culture. A global and comparative lens will guide our approach to questions such as How do literary works relate to the ecological crises of our time? What can we learn from readings that decenter human experience? How have economic and political systems shaped environmental imaginaries and the ecology of the modern world? Students will consider the relationship between the humanities and natural sciences, such as biology, ecology, and geography. They will read literature alongside environmental and economic histories—as well as maps, archival documents, travel narratives, city streets, plants, rivers, the Milton campus, and beyond. Possible texts include Alexievich, Voices from Chernobyl; Cabeza de Vaca, Chronicle of the Narváez Expedition; Conrad, Heart of Darkness; Ghosh, Sea of Poppies; Gumbs, Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals; Head, When Rain Clouds Gather; Hong, Engine Empire; Kane, Milk Black Carbon; Lee, On Such a Full Sea; Munif, Cities of Salt; Nixon, Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor; Philip, Zong!; Rush, Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore; and Rytkheu, When the Whales Leave.

Literature and the Human Condition
Pursuing a broad inquiry into what makes us human, how we form relationships, how we make decisions, and how we live with their consequences, students examine literature from multiple traditions and genres. This discussion-based class delves into topics such as free will, heroism and villainy, self and others, and innocence, guilt, and redemption. Students explore their ideas about the course’s themes in critical essays, personal essays, and creative responses. Much of the fall encompasses John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost. Other writers in recent years have included Toni Morrison, Arundhati Roy, Charlotte Brontë, William Shakespeare, Matt Miller, and Haruki Murakami.

The Novel since 1800: Narratives in Conversation
Novels have, from their beginnings, risked being treated as frivolous forms of entertainment, as escapes from daily realities into fictionalized situations. This perceived departure from seriousness has opened space for novels to critique their societies, amplify voices that might otherwise go unheard, and experiment with narrative form. By repeatedly making space for new voices and viewpoints, the novel both reflects and shapes its world. Students in this course will read a broad range of classic and contemporary novels, looking particularly at texts that “speak” with each other thematically and sometimes in direct response to each other. The course will begin with discussions of the summer reading, Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities and Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children. Other texts may include, for example, Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice; James Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room; Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights; Louise Erdrich, Tracks; F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby; Henry James, What Maisie Knew; Toni Morrison, Jazz; and Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway.

People and the Natural World
People and the Natural World asks students to explore human engagement with the natural world and the way in which this interaction shapes both people and land. The course literature, which incorporates novels, poetry, and essays, draws primarily from the work of American authors. Thoreau’s Walden plays a central role in the curriculum, as do the writings of authors such as Louise Erdrich, Patricia Smith, Mary Oliver, Leslie Marmon Silko, and Lauret Savoy. Student learning is grounded in concrete observations that grow toward more abstract, complex revelations about the human condition, and writing assignments will range from close readings and nature journals to analytical and reflective essays.

Reading Consciousness
What makes us human? Is it our body, our soul, our consciousness? Through an interdisciplinary study of literature, philosophy, and religion, this course will investigate and interrogate our notions of humanity from antiquity to the contemporary era. By exploring topics such as the institution of slavery, the struggle for human rights, and the nature of spiritual transcendence, students will develop an understanding of the evolving definition of the human and insert their own voices into the current debate. Assessments may include critical essays, personal reflections, student-led discussions, and creative work. Readings will come from a diverse range of authors and thinkers, including Ralph Ellison, Charlotte Brontë, Harriet Jacobs, Kazuo Ishiguro, and Plato.

Class I Electives

After 2000: Contemporary Literature
In this course, we read 21st-century texts that pose challenging questions about the global context in which we live today. Themes we explore have included public health, globalization, citizenship, the climate crisis, immigration, colonization, and identity. Because of the contemporary nature of this course, readings change frequently. Students may expect to read texts from at least four different regions within the year. Regions include but are not limited to the Caribbean, South Asia, East and Southeast Asia, West Africa, South America, Native American nations, and the Middle East. Assessments in this course offer students choice in their style of writing and self-expression and will focus on developing skills in voice, revision, and self-directed work.

“Some of Us Are Brave”: American Women’s Literature
In the early 1980s, the anthologies This Bridge Called My Back (1981) and But Some of Us Are Brave (1982) highlighted the need in feminist dialogue for voices from women of color. This need inspired legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw to coin the term “intersectionality”—a position at the cross-section of gender, race, and sexuality occupied by Black women in particular and, in more contemporary application, women of color in general. This interdisciplinary course in literature and feminist theory examines the interventions of American cis and trans women of color into a discourse that excluded them through identity and class. It also considers how those interventions redefine American feminism, femininity, and womanhood. Assessments will include critical essays, personal reflections, and creative work. In addition to the anthologies and the writing of Crenshaw, readings may also include works from Audre Lorde, Yuri Kochiyama, bell hooks, Gloria Anzaldúa, Torrey Peters, Jeanette Winterson, Adrienne Rich, and Roxane Gay.

The Craft of Nonfiction
This course is designed for students interested in the craft of writing as a means to express ideas, personal experience, and analysis of the sort of general interest topics (e.g., the arts, medicine, sports, nature, science, education) that appear in magazines such as The New Yorker and The Atlantic. It addresses three different genres of nonfiction: the feature article, a 4,000-word piece of investigative reporting; the essay of ideas, a 1,500-word reflective essay of ideas; and the memoir, a 4,000-word personal narrative. In each genre, students first read models and complete short, experimental writing assignments. The course differs from other Class I English courses in its high ratio of writing to reading and in its requirement that students revise each major piece of work to a high standard of professionalism. Critique by peers is an essential part of the writing process; students should expect to share their work with the class and to read and comment on the work of their classmates.

We begin our journey with The Magus, the course’s required summer reading. On the island of Phraxos in 1953, the mysteries of Bourani become the thematic and artistic questions of the course. Exploring the myths, creeds, and psychological principles we live by, we move from our encounters with freedom and truth to 19th- and 20th-century fiction. Continuing our historical and thematic exploration, we examine the fiction people live by as we study modern and contemporary literature. Reading selections vary from year to year. The following is a sample of works taught recently: Body and Soul, Salvage the Bones, American Pastoral, Oryx and Crake, The Road, Beloved, and Exit West.

Literature & the Nature of Reality
To what extent is our world shaped by the words we use to describe it? Does a description reflect the world, like a mirrored image, or do words join in the making of the world, like precious metals mined? Poetry, plays, and prose may stir the imagination and stretch the mind, but—beyond the page—are the things they conjure real? This reading-intensive and genuinely subversive seminar studies the drive in literature to defy convention and seed the experience of being human with greater complexity. Weaving together plays, poetry, and prose from around the globe with 20th-century intellectual projects that transformed our understanding of consciousness (Freud), language (de Saussure), and scientific inquiry (Kuhn), this course explores works that critically engage with their cultural contexts and reimagine the nature of the reality shared by readers and writers alike. Reading across a range of subgenres—revenge tragedies, like Shakespeare’s Hamlet; neo-slave narratives like Morrison’s Beloved; absurdist theatrical productions like Beckett’s Waiting for Godot; and science fiction like Ted Chiang’s Exhalation: Stories—we examine literary depictions of reality to understand the ways they engender new possibilities of meaning and, with them, new realities. As writers, students develop their own thinking in critical essays, essays-of-ideas, personal reflections, and creative writing projects. Alternative titles that have been at home in this course in recent years include Stoppard’s Arcadia, Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author, Frayn’s Copenhagen, Salih’s Season of Migration to the North, Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, Borges’ Labyrinths, and Eliot’s “The Waste Land.

Living Writers: Studies in Contemporary Literature
This course offers an opportunity to undertake in-depth studies of authors shaping this literary moment—writers and poets whose work emerges from and engages with the world as students themselves experience it. By limiting the number of authors we read and by reading multiple texts by each, the course allows for more intensive study of each writer than typically happens in other courses: students might trace the evolution of an author’s style, subject matter, and thematic concerns; explore an author’s approach to different literary genres; or examine an author’s influences to understand their place within a specific literary tradition. Written assessments will include critical essays, personal reflections, and creative work, which might take as inspiration the styles or themes of the work students have read. Each year, the list of authors will include two Bingham Visiting Writers, who will visit the classroom to engage directly with students. Students will also craft the curriculum by collectively selecting at least one author to study during the year. Readings will change from year to year; the following list of recent Bingham Visiting Writers suggests the types of writers likely to be studied in the course: Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, Richard Blanco, Tina Chang, Mark Doty, Lauren Groff, Terrance Hayes, Amy Hempel, Jamaica Kincaid, Claire Messud, Lorrie Moore, Paul Muldoon, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Kamila Shamsie, Tracy K. Smith, Zadie Smith, Jenny Xie, Paul Yoon, and Kevin Young.

Lyric, Dramatic, and Epic Poetry
This course introduces students to major English and American poets from the eighth century to the present and the styles of literary periods, including the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the Romantic Period, and Modernism. The course begins with the major British texts that form the basis for all subsequent developments—including Beowulf, Shakespeare’s plays, and Paradise Lost. The course will study writers in cultural and historical contexts and will give special attention to how later writers “make it new” (in Ezra Pound’s phrase) even as they draw on great works from the past.

Modern Comparative Literature
“The center cannot hold,” as W.B. Yeats writes. Modern Comparative Literature explores modernism, “a revolutionary movement encompassing all of the creative arts that began in the late 19th century and continued into the 20th…Modernist authors sought to break away from traditions and conventions through experimentation with new literary forms, devices, and styles…Their works reflected the pervasive sense of loss, disillusionment, and even despair in the wake of the Great War” (The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms). Using a set of contextual authors and readings, students read modernist authors such as Kafka, Joyce, Woolf, Faulkner, Camus, Garcia Marquez, and Morrison with an eye toward modernist themes and ideas. The course starts with a focus on prose before shifting to a study of 20th-century plays in the spring. Amidst the alienation and destruction, how hopeful do the artists that we encounter allow us to be about our future? While “things fall apart” is there, as Garcia Marquez posits, “a new and sweeping utopia of life, where no one will be able to decide for others how they die, where love will prove true and happiness be possible, and where the races condemned to one hundred years of solitude will have, at last and forever, a second opportunity on earth?” Or does the art we encounter foresee our inevitable destruction?

Philosophy & Literature
This course investigates theories about the nature of humanity and moral philosophy, emphasizing a reasoned approach to thinking about complex and abstract problems. Topics include the basis of human knowledge, questions of freedom and determinism, the nature of evil, the nature of moral and aesthetic judgment, and the definition of social and political justice. Each unit takes its form around a main literary text and complementary philosophical readings. Students read traditional philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, and Kant, as well as more modern thinkers such as Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud. Titles may include Alan Lightman’s Einstein’s Dreams, Primo Levi’s The Drowned and the Saved, Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men, Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, and Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys.

Shakespeare and Cinema: Sex, Race, Religion, Power
This course invites students to study six of Shakespeare’s major plays alongside multiple film adaptations of each. We will historicize Shakespeare in terms of an early modernity where old ideas mixed, often radically, with new ones, and where concepts whose meanings we take for granted—such as those involving sexuality, gender, race, religion, and the nature of political power—were wildly unstable. These instabilities appear in the plays as aesthetic ambiguities. They speak to what Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o calls Shakespeare’s “revolutionary spirit” and what Emma Smith refers to as his “gappiness,” which makes the plays “alive in unpredictable and changing ways.” Infamously used as a tool of the British empire in 19th- and 20th-century colonial education, the plays have also proven “alive and unpredictable” as immensely generative artistic templates for writers and filmmakers from around the world to adapt, translate, and reimagine Shakespeare for their own aesthetic and political situations. A cross-dressing Hamlet in progressive Weimar Germany; The Tempest staged in an all-women’s prison; Heath Ledger and LL Cool J as ’90s Petruchios; King Lear in the conventions of Japanese Noh theater; the rebellion of Laertes as a grassroots uprising in postcolonial Ghana—these pairings among others speak to the leaps we will make across histories, languages, cultures, and artistic mediums in Shakespeare and Cinema. Students will write critically about the plays and will be encouraged to develop final projects that creatively adapt Shakespeare in a medium of their choice.

We Are What We Read
“You must write, and read, as if your life depended on it,” Adrienne Rich writes. In this course, students will read fiction and write several personal, creative, and analytical essays examining the intersection of the literature and the reader reading and how literature works when we feel, as Emily Dickinson has said, “as if the top of [our] head were taken off.” We will ask how we read the texts and how the texts read us. The work includes a rereading of a resonant novel of the student’s choice, fiction (shorter and longer), possibly including Virginia Woolf, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Ernest Hemingway, Danzy Senna, Martin Amis, Jane Austen, Michael Ondaatje, and Haruki Murakami, and poetry, contemporary and not. Additionally, we will read essayists writing about reading, including Rich, Joyce Carol Oates, Andre Dubus, James Baldwin, Audre Lorde, and others. A final project will involve students’ examinations of a small body of work by a single author of each student’s choice.

English Electives

The English electives that follow do not fulfill the diploma requirement in English and must be taken in addition to a full English course.

(Half Course)
Classes I & II
By devoting a full year to the play that is widely regarded as the greatest in English, this course, team-taught by a member of the English Department and a member of the Performing Arts Department, offers students several unique opportunities: to enjoy the in-depth study of a single text, with no pressure to move on; to experience fully the richness that a very complex literary text provides; to approach a Shakespeare play actively by performing, directing and designing parts of the text, and in doing so discover a full range of possible interpretation; to join the literate world in knowledge and appreciation of a classic work; to explore the deep personal resonances that this work, perhaps more than any other, always seems to evoke; and to gain familiarity with the problems and processes of literary scholarship.
Most class time is spent reading and discussing Hamlet and comparing different film versions. Students, individually or in groups, formulate long-term projects that they complete during homework time. Projects, which may be critical or creative, have covered a broad range, including theater design, filmmaking, creative writing, textual analysis, memorization and performance, graphic art, psychology, music, and research into the play’s historical and literary background.

(Half Course)
Classes II & III
In today’s digital and highly saturated media environment, students need to learn media literacy early and the role a free press plays in a democracy, asking basic questions of communication law, such as: What is freedom of speech? Freedom of the press? This course will teach students how to gather facts, conduct interviews, research background material, and craft and edit news stories. Students will examine the differences between hard news coverage, feature pieces, and opinion pieces and write in all three styles. They will explore media in all its forms—print, video, podcasts, and social media—comparing and contrasting how current events are covered; through project-based learning in the spring, students will trial communicating across all of these platforms. Working journalists will visit class to discuss their work.

“It was all a dream…”: The Power of Poetry through Close Reading & Analysis
(Half Course)
Classes I, II, & III
This course is geared toward students who have a deep interest in poetry and its many forms and want to expand their repertoire of rhetorical devices. This course will push students to dig deep into the text through close reading strategies that refine their analytical writing. We will also explore how poetry both captures and transcends time through its influence on popular culture.

Project Story: Narrative Journalism & Performance
(Half Course)
Classes I, II, & III
From competitive story slams performed for packed venues to storytelling courses designed to empower workplace professionals, sharing narrative with live audiences has never felt more current or relevant. In this course, students will study the art of storytelling through moving their own and others’ stories from page to stage. During the first half of the course, students will learn narrative journalism skills, performance skills, and peer workshop practice to collect and shape stories of our school. They will work collaboratively during the second half of the course to identify, research, write, and perform a story that originates beyond Milton Academy. Throughout the year, students will read and view storytelling models, attend performances, and hear from visiting artists and activists who promote storytelling around the country, believing that shared stories strengthen and sustain human connection. (This course is listed under both the English and Performing Arts Departments.)

Creative Writing
Satisfies Arts Program Requirement
Classes I, II, & III
This course offers workshops in shaping ideas, personal observations, and memories into fiction and poetry. It teaches techniques of each genre and employs frequent reading and discussion of student works within the class.

Advanced Creative Writing
(Half Course)
Meeting twice a week in a format that consists of a writers’ workshop and individual conferences, this course provides the student-writer the opportunity to continue to develop talents. (Prerequisites: Creative Writing and permission of the creative writing teachers.)

Advanced Creative Writing 2
(Half Course)
This course allows those who have completed Advanced Creative Writing to continue working in the same format. (Prerequisites: Advanced Creative Writing and permission of the creative writing teachers.)