The English Department seeks to develop sensitive and critical readers and writers who value reading and writing as modes of discovery, thought, and communication.
In our approach to reading, we challenge students to be honest to the text and to read with precision, attentive to nuances of tone and voice, image and symbol, plot and theme. We encourage our students to become lifelong readers, capable of responding to literature as an artistic form and as a means of understanding one’s self and others. As students move through the reading program, they receive a balanced and broad exposure to world literature.
Central to our approach to writing is a shared emphasis on the composition process. Students learn the basic skills in moving from the sentence to the paragraph to the critical essay. As these skills develop, we encourage each student to develop his or her personal writing voice, to take intellectual risks, and to understand the intended audience. We place special emphasis on revision. Frequent conferences and written comments on papers assure both discussion of student work and mentoring through the process of drafting and revision.
Verbal communication is an essential, real life skill that we incorporate into all of our classes in each Form.We emphasize listening and speaking through class discussion, dramatic reading, and oral reports.
Survey of Literary Genres
This course, the first in the St. Mark’s English sequence, seeks to create more acute, perceptive readers and more powerful, controlled writers. The literature and writing curricula for this class, though taught together and fundamentally intertwined, may be distinguished on the basis of objectives: 1) to introduce students to a wide array of voices through substantial study of the short story, the poem, the novel, an epic, and one of Shakespeare’s plays; 2) to familiarize students with the different narrative perspectives open to a writer and hence also open to them; and 3) to help students become more sensitive to the connotations of individual words.The writing dimension of the course helps students to become more aware of the choices that they make as writers and to develop a prose style that flows with grace and pleasing variety. In addition, particular insistence is placed on the preference for concrete over abstract language. Crucial to the act of writing is the command of a fertile vocabulary. This course, which teaches vocabulary in the spirit of the belief that words precede thoughts, stresses stems and roots as well as etymologies (Required for all students in Form III)
Writing Workshop occupies a distinct place within the English curriculum. As the title suggests, the class places the writing process at the center of the course. In the first semester, students write nearly every night in response to short stories, poems, and essays. Early assignments often include autobiography, description, and narrative; later pieces concentrate on analysis and argument. These assignments help students to improve their clarity, organization, word choice, style, and grammar. Through class workshops, conferences with their teachers, and frequent revision, students also learn to evaluate their thinking and to become more rigorous critics of their own writing.In the winter and spring, students tackle longer literary works — Oedipus Rex, The Merchant of Venice, Frankenstein, and A River Runs Through It are examples of recent choices — and focus on the critical literary essay. Study of these texts builds upon the reading and writing skills developed in the fall, as students learn how to develop a good thesis and how to structure and support their ideas on paper. In the spring, students write a major research paper; they learn to move from a topic to an argument, gather and incorporate effective evidence, and cite sources properly.Each semester culminates with a writing portfolio rather than an exam; the portfolio offers students the chance to revise and present their best work and to reflect on their progress as writers. (Required for all students in Form IV)
V Form English
The American Literature or Books Without Borders curriculum challenges students to develop and utilize their ability to read and respond to literature formally. All American Literature classes will have three core texts and all Books Without Borders classes will have three core texts: two of those texts will be core for both courses. While requiring students to communicate their responses to material in a number of ways (through participation in class discussion, group exploration, and creative writing), American Literature or Books Without Borders follows up the writing skills developed in the previous year with a strong emphasis on four core types of essay: passage analysis, comparative, persuasive, and personal. Teachers address the various aspects of essay construction: paying careful attention to the text, formulating interpretive responses to material, constructing an outline, substantiating perceptions, using textual evidence, writing, and rewriting. Through such careful attention to the process of critical writing, this course seeks to give students mastery of the vocabulary of critical analysis, the skills of critical interpretation, and the presentation of critical argument. American Literature and Books Without Borders emphasize preparations for the SAT II Subject Test in Literature, including review of literary terms and practice tests. Both American Literature and Books Without Borders teachers will be working with the history department for collaboration with V Form United States’ history classes.
This course, a study of the American literary tradition, introduces students to works dating from the Puritan era through to the present. While students will consider the individual merits of each work they read, they will also analyze poems, stories, essays, plays, and novels as part of a continuing stream of cultural discussion. Each text is addressed within the cultural and literary contexts of the period in which it was written with reference to preceding authors who might have influenced its writing.
Core Texts (2014–15): Fitzgerald—The Great Gatsby, Larsen—Passing, Ginsberg—HowlAdditional Texts: Twain—The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Twain—A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, Morrison—The Bluest Eye, Ruhl—Dead Man’s Cell Phone, Douglass—Narrative of the Life of an American Slave, Erdrich—Love Medicine, O’Brien—The Things They Carried, O’Brien—In the Lake of the Woods, Thoreau—Walden, The Selected Poems of Emily Dickinson, Alexie—The True Diary of a Part Time Indian, Wilson—Fences, McCarthy—The Road, Hawthorne—Young Goodman Brown and Other Short Stories, O’Connor—Wise Blood, Emerson—Nature
Books Without Borders
This course focuses on works that are extraordinarily rich in literary quality and that raise topics of pressing importance to all. The course includes intensive study of representative works from various genres, cultures, and periods, concentrating on works of recognized literary merit. We’ll read and discuss works that look backward, critically assessing earlier thought, as well as forward, shaping new worlds that influenced our own. Core Texts and Additional Texts May Include: Dante—Inferno, Shakespeare—Hamlet, Woolf—A Room of One’s Own, Achebe—Things Fall Apart, Kingston—The Woman Warrior, Angelou—I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Fitzgerald—The Great Gatsby, Rhys—Wide Sargasso Sea, Morrison—The Bluest Eye, Camus—The Stranger; Austen—Pride and Prejudice, Hwang—M. Butterfly, Conrad—Heart of Darkness, Erdrich—Love Medicine, See—Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Voltaire—Candide
VI Form Electives
Literature on Trial & Appeal
Fall & Spring
Combining persuasion and literary analysis, this course will explore the intersection between law and literature. Students will brainstorm “crimes” or civil wrongs committed by characters from selected literary and philosophical readings, will work together to act as the prosecution, defense, appellant or appellee for the selected characters, and will incorporate ideas from varied sources to research their case(s). This will culminate in persuasively written “briefs” to complement their “trial and appellate” work. This course will provide an opportunity to think about the law in a new way, to read engaging works of fiction and non-fiction, and to examine the law from a humanistic and philosophical perspective.
VI Form Writing Seminar Fall
Writing Seminar will attempt to sharpen the clarity, efficiency and power of student expression by closely examining and engaging in many types of writing, from journalism and advertising to classic essays and more philosophical work. We begin with shorter, personal narratives, moving our writing into the arena of essay writing by providing a model that works for the college essay. Additionally, we will carefully review the thinking and formatting involved in the art of argumentative essay writing, engaging in cost/benefit analysis and establishing a useful template for college writing. Topics for consideration range from the St. Mark’s Mission Statement to the merits of movies and music.
Getting Lost I
The use of an island for the setting establishes the critical element of place. In some works, the island itself becomes a character. This course will focus on the ramifications of living on or being stranded on an island. We will examine the motives, actions, and purpose of individuals in isolation and how the human condition is affected by living on an island. Also, students will study how societies form while being, essentially, separated from “society.” The students will grapple with issues including survival, power struggles, individual and group motivation, group contagion, and paranormal conditions. All of these topics are guided by the ABC drama LOST, and the LOST influences of psychology, philosophy, mythology, and sociology. Major texts may include: The Tempest by Shakespeare, Lord of the Flies by William Golding, Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells, Island by Aldous Huxley, and short story selections from Island by Alistair MacLeod.
The Rise of the Short Story Fall
Can you (create and) solve a conflict in fewer than 5000 words? Learn the power of being succinct with distilled emotion in this course. Learn how to affect people quickly and powerfully. This creative writing class is designed to broaden your knowledge of the relatively recent literary form called the “short story” and to focus on the development of original short stories. The course is run as a writer’s workshop with writer-led feedback sessions and weekly writing assignments. You read a selection of stories from skilled authors, explore the various facets that compose a short story, and complete in-class writing exercises paired with longer, more intense, original writing out of class. Students experiment with form and style, breaking all of the age-old rules of writing in order to craft a fresh sentence, the puissant moment, and the unforgettable story. By the end of the course, you will have a collection of over 10 revised and accomplished short stories. This collection, submitted in portfolio form, will serve as a final project. You will be required to submit at least one original story to SM’s literary magazine, the Vindex, and possibly to take part in an organized public reading, showcasing your unique literary voice.
Heroes and Antiheroes in Literature and Society:
Since his inception in 1938, Superman has stood as a hallmark of American Culture and, along with other Superheroes, established an American Mythology, redefining what it means to be a hero. In this course, we will examine the development and evolution of Superman as a gateway into understanding what it means to be a hero. Through the study of literature, sociology, art, and media, we will deconstruct the superhero paradigm presented in classic and contemporary comic books and graphic novels, as well as compare key superheroes with real and fictional heroes. In addition, we will also study the rise of antiheroes in literature and popular culture, such as Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye, Michael Corleone in The Godfather, and Walter White in “Breaking Bad.” In exploring the dichotomy between heroes and antiheroes, we will see how values and virtues are both celebrated and corrupted through societal pressures and individual character pursuits. Possible texts for the course will include readings from: Action Comics, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Sin City, The Watchmen, The Catcher in the Rye, Fight Club, On the Waterfront, The Godfather, The Who’s “Tommy,” Phantom of the Opera, and Medea.
Writing For Actors Spring
Writing For Actors is a creative writing course dedicated to the writing of one act plays and screenplays. Building on an understanding of dramatic structure, students will experiment with literally bringing their words to life on stage and on screen. Through daily assignments and weekly writing workshops, students will learn how to “write for the stage” and craft realistic dialogue, intricate characters, and deeply rooted conflicts. As part of the revision process, students will also work with actors in the spring to help develop dialogue and “see” how their words come to life onstage. Once completed, students will have their works performed in conjunction with the Student Directed One Act Play Festival. Students will read a variety of Tony and Pulitzer winning plays and Oscar nominated screenplays, using each text to focus on how writers develop the images that are ultimately performed on stage and captured on screen. By the end of the course, students will also complete the first act of an original full-length screenplay.
What's Love Got to Do with It? Short Stories and Conflicts of the Human Heart
SpringIn quickened, condensed versions of human experience, short stories can cramp us into narrow, particular, often disturbing circumstances. These very constraints upon time and emotion replicate the most important, revealing parts of our lives, exactly why a good short story can strike us as expansive, universal, encouraging and true. The class will discuss a great range of stories by dozens of authors, from a “classic” lineage of Turgenev, Chekhov, Hemingway and Carver to Salinger and more modern, irreverent work by TC Boyle and Lorrie Moore. Students will complete a project according to the frameworks that we establish for the components of stories, ultimately teaching the story of their choice to the rest of the class.
Getting LOST II: The Writers’ Room
Getting LOST II: The Writers’ Room studies how the hit t.v. show LOST was made. We will examine the process that any network goes through to establish and produce a tv show, with specific emphasis on ABC’s development of LOST. We will then follow a similar process. As a class, we will form a “Writers’ Room,” in which all of the students collaborate on brainstorming ideas and writing episodes for a full premiere season of a show of the class’ design. Mimicking a writing staff for any television series, we will form a writing “team” in which we are all involved in formulating the plots and ideas for the show. The major guiding text will be The TV Showrunner’s Roadmap: 21 Navigational Tips for Screenwriters to Create and Sustain a Hit TV Series by Neil Landau. We will also study actual LOST scripts and the DVD Inside The Writers’ Room with the Writers of LOST. To create authentic episode scripts, we will use the software Final Draft.
Rebels with a Cause
In this course, students will study the rebellious actions of characters and probe to understand the motives and reasoning behind their actions. What is it that suppresses them? Is it government, society’s laws, or a personal grudge? Perhaps a moral stand? We will examine what they stand for and how they rationalize their rebellion. Students must bring an open mind to the readings and be able to defend against or argue for the protagonists, using the text for support in each case. Major texts may include: In the Time of Butterflies by Julia Alvarez, A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk, Wicked by Gregory Maguire, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey, The Awakening by Kate Chopin, and The Crucible by Arthur Miller. Films may include The Truman Show, Dead Poets’ Society, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Into the Wild.
News That Stays News: Poetry
Poetry, as described by Ezra Pound, is “news that stays news.” Think of it as the whole reflected world seen in a dewdrop, the potential in a tulip bulb. Think of it as moral philosophy. Think of it, simply, as S.T. Coleridge did, as the “best words in the best order.” This course is designed to introduce you to and broaden your knowledge of the sometimes-ineffable world of poetry. Your texts will consist of the anthology The Making of a Poem as well as supplementary handouts with poems of various cultures, eras, forms, and styles. In a true workshop experience, we will experiment with formal poetry, free verse, and specific poetic techniques by writing and sharing. Writing will include original poems, journaling, and response papers.
“Never Trust the Teller. Trust the Tale.”
Lies in Literature When does the reader trust the teller? When the tale? This elective looks at several odd tales written by several equally odd tellers. Truth? Fiction? Truth in Fiction? Among the works to be considered: The Three Button Trick by Nicole Barker, The Pencil Test by James Guilford, Enduring Love by Ian McEwan, and if time permits, Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. Students will prepare writing assignments, including personal responses, journal entries, created dialogue, and analytical responses, which will improve students’ communicative competence and develop their narrative and critical writing ability. The semester will culminate in a portfolio of the students’ best writing for the semester.
Cold War, Cool Culture
This course will examine the effects the American policy of “containment” had on the popular fiction and film created and released during the Cold War period. In our readings, we will cover issues such as: McCarthyism, the nuclear family, atomic anxiety, brainwashing, juvenile delinquency, homophobia, normative gender roles, and desegregation. Literature will include: Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, and Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle. Films may include: Lady and the Tramp, Rebel Without a Cause, On the Waterfront, The Manchurian Candidate (1962), North by Northwest, Dr. Strangelove, The Defiant Ones, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Rear Window, Strangers on a Train, The Mask of Fu Manchu, The Pink Panther Strikes Again, and Return of the Jedi.