Explore our Curriculum

English

The English Department focuses on supporting students as they work to become engaged close readers as well as clear and cogent writers. At each form level, students study prose, poetry, and drama from a diverse range of authors, cultures, traditions, and time periods. The department values the canon as well as contemporary works, and we incorporate texts that showcase this range into each form level. At Groton, students will read and study Sophocles, Shakespeare, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Baldwin, and Toni Morrison alongside contemporary writers like Colson Whitehead, Jhumpa Lahiri, Ocean Vuong, Natasha Tretheway, Richard Blanco, Celeste Ng, and Kazuo Ishiguro. These varied texts and authors offer students unique challenges and perspectives while also providing a compelling resource to hone close reading skills and a student’s analytical and creative writing. In their own writing, students are encouraged to be authentic, imaginative, and precise. Ultimately, we hope that the skills students develop here will engender a life-long love of reading and writing that will ensure them an active intellectual life beyond Groton.
  • "American" Stories (W)

    Open to Sixth and Fifth Formers. In Ronald Takaki’s A Different Mirror, he writes that, “America is a nation peopled by the world, and we are all Americans.” However, the history of America is fraught with violence and subjugation, specifically toward marginalized groups of people. In this course, we will read a diverse group of authors whose fiction examines the interaction with and integration into American society. We will discuss the formation and erasure of identity, intergenerational conflict, and why these recurring themes of violence and subjugation continue to pervade our society today. Course readings might include works by Philip Roth, Julie Otsuka, Dinaw Mengestu, Leslie Marmon Silko, Ronald Takaki, and Arturo Islas.
  • "Passing" in Literature (S)

    Open to Sixth and Fifth Formers and taught above the AP level. This course explores the concept of “passing” – when one hides his or her identity in respect to, for example, race, religious affiliation, gender identity, sexuality, and socio-economic status. The course asks such questions as: What does it mean when one lives a life of passing? What are the underlying factors that prevent an individual from showing up as himself or herself? Is passing about coping or about escaping? How do these narratives help us better understand ourselves? What does it take for individuals to be their true selves? Students will explore their own experiences with passing as the class examines how identity is shaped, concealed, and revealed. Texts may include: Passing by Nella Larson, The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man by James Weldon Johnson, We Wear the Mask 15 True Stories of Passing in America, edited by Brando Skyhorse and Lisa Page, and a selection of short stories.
  • 1884 (S)

    Open to Sixth and Fifth Formers. Most of us know that Groton School was founded in 1884, but how much do we know about what the United States was actually like at that time? This spring term English elective will immerse students in some of the seminal American literature published that year (reading texts by writers such as Mark Twain, Helen Hunt Jackson, and Albery Allson Whitman), as well as in important examples of visual art (examining works by artists such as John Singer Sargent, Mary Cassatt, and Henry O. Tanner). How did the literature and artwork produce in 1884 address the important issues and ideas that mattered to the people alive at that time? Whose voices struggled to be heard in 1884? How did writers and artists of different backgrounds and genders attempt to express some of the difficult truths of that year? This course will wrestle with these questions and provide students with the opportunity to develop—through careful, curious interdisciplinary study—a fuller, more nuanced understanding of 1884 as human beings experienced it in the United States. A visit to Boston's Museum of Fine Arts will also be scheduled later in the term.
  • Exposition (F)

    Exposition is a required fall term course for Sixth Form students that focuses on the personal essay. Students read a range of published essays that might include works by James Baldwin, Joan Didion, Ocean Vuong, David Foster Wallace, Zadie Smith, Amy Tan, and E.B. White. Students typically produce four essays, and the course utilizes the workshop model which requires clear, consistent, and thoughtful feedback from the teacher and students. After receiving feedback, students are expected to revise their work extensively before submitting a final draft. In this way, the course emphasizes the role of revision in the writing process and the deep relationship between good thinking and good writing.
  • Fifth Form English (Y)

    In Fifth Form English, students study a range of prose, poetry, and drama with a focus on expanding their analytical, creative, and personal narrative writing. The expectation in Fifth Form English is that students will move from a general understanding of structural, thematic, and stylistic elements in their written work, to more nuanced and sophisticated interpretations of texts. Readings come from a range of authors, time periods, and genres, and the focus in class is to hone close reading skills and for students to showcase a keen understanding of literary and poetic devices. All students read Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Morrison’s Beloved, with additional works chosen from authors such as Kazuo Ishiguro, Margaret Atwood, Ted Chiang, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Cormac McCarthy, and William Faulkner. Most Fifth Form students choose to take Advanced Placement examinations in English Language and/or Literature at the end of the year, and teachers offer support and resources for students to excel in those examinations.
  • Fourth Form English (Y)

    In Fourth Form English, students examine a range of literary works including the novel, short fiction, drama, and poetry. Authors that students will study include, but are not limited to, Shakespeare, William Faulkner, James Baldwin, Gabriel García Márquez, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Jhumpa Lahiri, Ha Jin, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Teachers emphasize close reading and clear, focused writing that exhibits an understanding of literary and poetic devices. The majority of Fourth Form writing is analytical, though students will also write personal narrative and creative works.
  • Global Science Fictions (W)

    Open to Sixth and Fifth Formers. This course will examine science fiction and speculative fiction within a variety of media from around the world. We will explore the broader genre of “speculative fiction,” which refers to fictional works that envision alternate, parallel, possible, or imagined worlds. As students investigate the ways in which these texts reimagine the past and visualize the future, they will also gain knowledge of the regional, cultural, and historical differences and forms of change that have impacted the development of the genre internationally. Students will learn how to formally analyze a variety of media, including novels, films, graphic narratives, music, and radio broadcasts. Some sample texts: Lucian of Samosata, Excerpts from The True History, Selections from Iraq + 100:  Hassan Blasim, “Foreword,” Hassan Abdulrazzak, “Kuszib,” Ra Page, “Afterword”, Yoshikazu Yasuhiko, Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin, Vol. 1: Activation, Isaac Asimov, “Introduction,” “Robbie” and “Evidence” from I, Robot, “The Last Question”, Jericho Brown, “Dear Dr. Frankenstein”, Walter Mosley, “Black to the Future”,  Nalo Hopkinson, “Greedy Choke Puppy” and “A Reluctant Ambassador”.
  • Jane Austen (W)

    Open to Sixth and Fifth Formers. The plan is to read three of her great novels (most likely Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Persuasion) and watch an effective film version of one of these texts. Class discussions, presentations, and writing assignments will ask students to examine why these novels continue to fascinate readers, why a film adaptation can (or cannot) do justice to the text, and why these narratives continue to speak to issues that matter to us today. We won’t, I’m afraid, be able to pull off a field trip to her birthplace in England, but we will do all that we can to immerse ourselves in Austen’s extraordinary world of brilliant writing, incisive social commentary, and timeless matters of the heart and mind.
  • Literature and Money (S)

    Open to Sixth and Fifth Formers. In Oliver Stone’s 1987 film Wall Street, Gordon Gekko proclaims that, “Greed - for lack of a better word - is good.” Surely, the authors we love would bristle at Gekko’s dogged pursuit of financial gain. It seems that the world of literature and the world of finance are quite content to avoid acknowledging each other; authors focus on art, financiers focus on money, and there is a sense that any interaction with the other side might dilute their respective work. However, there are moments when the two worlds collide, and these texts will be the focus of our study. We will look closely at the interplay between imaginative expression and business. What is the relationship between literature and the economic world? Can literature help us to understand the impacts of capitalism and globalization? Course readings might include works by Edith Wharton, W.E.B. Du Bois, Joseph Conrad, Mohsin Hahmid, Michael Lewis, and Jane Austen.
  • Literature of Resistance and Resilience (W)

    Open to Sixth and Fifth Formers. The course is about human rights violations. It gives a voice to the marginalized through the study of narratives that speak to their strength and resilience. These narratives show there can be strength in shared suffering and that people aren't only victims. The content requires students to think critically about concepts like courage, resistance, empathy, and forgiveness. The course asks students to consider the role of the bystander in the presence of discrimination and persecution. Texts and supplementary materials include: Mother to Mother by Sindive Magona, Bound for the North Star: True Stories of Fugitive Slaves by Dennis B. Fradin, and Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward.
  • Literature of the Americas (S)

    Open to Sixth and Fifth Formers. Who (or what) is an American? What has the term “American” meant throughout history to the people living in what we call North and South America? How might issues of race, ethnicity, class, and gender among other social constructs inform and impinge on our definitions of “American” identity and culture? How do literature and film help to create a national and/or transnational community? Through an introduction to the literary and cultural productions of the Americas from the pre-Columbian era to the present, this course seeks to explore the complexities of and broadness of the terms “America” and “Americanness.”

    The course will expose students to a broad range of films and literature emerging from the United States, Canada, the Caribbean, and Latin America. (All readings will be in English translation where applicable.) As this is a class with a comparative focus, students will be encouraged to draw connections between and highlight differences among authors throughout the Americas. Topics for the course may include: inter-American creation stories and foundational myths, formation of American republics, North-South dialogues, and American modernism(s). Possible authors and directors for the course include, but are not limited to: Langston Hughes, Walt Whitman, Maya Angelou, Walter Salles, José Enrique Rodó, José Vasconcelos, José Martí, Elena Garro, Fernando Ortiz, Ruben Dario, Herman Melville, Nicolás Guillén, Fernando Meirelles, Jorge Luis Borges, Carlos Fuentes, Tomás Gutiérrez Alea, Clarice Lispector, Rachel de Queiroz, and Laila Lalami.
  • Magical Realism (W)

    Open to Sixth and Fifth Formers. Despite Isabel Allende’s prediction in 2009 that magical realism was no longer vigente [prevalent], the commercial success of Coco (2017)—with a sequel set for 2022 after the first installment earned close to a billion dollars worldwide—and the popularity of TV shows like Jane the Virgin, Mozart in the Jungle, and others suggest that contemporary audiences are still drawn to the mode’s narrative potential. This course will explore some of the literary and cultural roots of magical realism, in which the quotidian is combined with the fantastical, a narrative alchemy that prompts readers to question reality, identity, and more. We will study novels, poems, art, and movies from Central and South America in an effort to better understand the significance of their “magical” elements, examining the degree to which it reveals a deeper structure that is at once political, revolutionary, and philosophical. Course readings will include Allende’s The House of the Spirits and different stories and excerpts from a range of authors (Jorge Luis Borges, Gabriel García Márquez, Gabriela Mistral, Mario Vargas Llosa, and diverse others). Students can expect at least 2-3 papers, regular reading responses, and a presentation.
  • Monstrosity in Gothic Literature (W)

    Open to Sixth and Fifth Formers. In this class, we will start with some excerpts of Gothic literature from the 18th and 19th centuries, then trace the genre's tendrils as they continue to reappear again and again in literature, art, and pop culture. The villains and putative heroes depicted in these texts can tell us about the fears of the cultures/people we will explore, which will open our discussions to topics of race, gender, class, sexuality, and ability/disability. This class will draw on a range of authors that may include Tracey Baptiste, Ambrose Bierce, Octavia Butler, David Hoon Kim, Florence Marryat, Edgar Allan Poe, and Mary Shelley. In writing assignments that will likely include three papers, students will not only consider how the monsters in these texts reflect the fears of the people creating and reading the stories, but they will also confront the monstrosity within their own histories and narratives.
  • Playwriting (W)

    Open to Sixth and Fifth Formers. As an introduction to the art of writing for the stage, this course will encourage students to create their own one-act plays while developing an understanding of structure, character, and motivation. Students will produce a series of written assignments, each of which will emphasize a particular aspect of the playwright's art, such as developing conflict, believable dialogue, and thematic ideas. The class participates in the Massachusetts Young Playwright's Festival. Particularly successful plays may be produced in the One Act Play Festival. Students may take the course more than once. Enrollment is limited to eight students.
  • Poetry Reading and Writing (W)

    Open to Sixth and Fifth Formers. The class will read selections of poems from the past 4000 years from all over the world as students learn to emulate the styles of a broad range of poets and develop their own creative voices on the page. Some poets the class may focus on include Basho, Li Po, Sappho, William Shakespeare, John Keats, Rainier Maria Rilke, Pablo Neruda, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Gertrude Stein, E.E. Cummings, Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Audre Lorde, Carol Ann Duffy, Billy Collins, Tracy K. Smith, and Ocean Vuong. Students will learn to write ballads, odes, haikus, sestinas, sonnets, villanelles, and free verse. They will also research the life and poetry of one poet in detail and present that poet and his/her work to the class.
  • Reading Film (S)

    Open to Sixth and Fifth Formers. In this course, we will turn our critical lens to the moving image and “read” and write on a variety of seminal films. We will study the cultural and social impact of film on 20th century thought, learn the specific language of film, read film theory, and examine the filmmaker’s use of literary devices such as symbolism, narrative viewpoint, foreshadowing as they move from the page to the screen. In our study, we will explore the work of influential national and international, as well as classic and contemporary, directors or “auteurs,” such as Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, Akira Kurosawa, Vittorio di Sica, Francois Truffaut, Francis Ford Coppola, Jane Campion, Kathryn Bigelow, Jordan Peele, Alfonso Cuaron, and Bong Joon-Ho amongst others. Assessments will be in the form of papers (shot by shot analysis, critical readings of films); the final assessment will be "Anatomy of a Scene'' from a film of your choice.
  • Second Form English (Y)

    Second Form English is designed to develop students' foundational reading and writing skills. Students are introduced to a range of texts which include novels, drama, and poetry by a diverse group of authors including Shakespeare, Martha Southgate, Elie Wiesel, Patricia McCormick, Marge Piercy, Harryette Mullen, Nicki Giovanni, and Pablo Neruda, among others. Students also receive formal grammar instruction. The class focuses on developing close reading skills and enhancing students' ability to understand plot, character, and thematic elements as well as extending their ability to make inferences. Students work collaboratively during class discussions and small group exercises. Writing assignments range from the personal to the analytical, from journal entries to formal papers, with an emphasis on analytical and argumentative essays.
  • Southern Literature (S)

    Open to Sixth and Fifth Formers. Writers from the American South have a vision of American life that is complex and problematic. How does this literature speak to conflicts we recognize within our country today? The harsh realities of slavery and of prejudice, of long-lasting discrimination, are part of life in the South. The writers we will read take on this topic and what it means to have the past haunt the present, from the era of the Civil War through the modern day. The authors we will study may include Mark Twain, Eudora Welty, Flannery O'Connor, William Faulkner, and Natasha Trethewey. We will consider the burdens and beauties of this rich literary tradition. We will do a variety of writing assignments in response to the literature we read.
  • Sustainability and Literature (S)

    Open to Sixth and Fifth Formers. In this course, we will explore authors who probe the complicated relationship between humans and the earth, sometimes imagining a world where humans so drastically alter the lived environment that it becomes an unthinkable dystopian space. We will peruse works from authors like Margaret Atwood, Octavia Butler, Allen Ginsberg, N.K Jemisin, Barbara Kingsolver, Ursula Le Guin, Nnedi Okorafor, and Henry David Thoreau. We will contextualize the readings historically and culturally by examining texts like FDR's policies to create national parks, Greta Thunberg's speech to the UN, and articles about ecocriticism, animal studies, and environmental racism. Students will contemplate the immediacy of these texts in light of new scientific projections of the planet's viability through writing assignments that will likely include three papers.
  • The Waste Land (W)

    Open to Sixth and Fifth Formers. T.S. Eliot’s modernist masterpiece, The Waste Land, is widely considered one of the most important poems of the twentieth century. Woven through the poem are allusions to texts that span across time, such as Dante’s The Divine Comedy, the legend of the Holy Grail, Shakespeare’s plays, art, popular song lyrics, Eastern and Western philosophy, the Bible, and the Upanishads. By studying excerpts from these texts, students will explore the way in which Eliot’s intertextuality transformed the way poetry was written. Students will spend the last weeks of the course on a writing project where they will write their own poem, in imitation of Eliot, using material from their own lives (books, songs, film, art, etc.) as sources of inspiration.
  • Third Form English (Y)

    In Third Form English, students develop close reading skills and writing with precision and confidence. Students work closely with teachers on their writing process which includes skills like brainstorming, organization and structure, thesis statements, topic sentences, introductions, conclusions, and proofreading strategies. Students also receive formal grammar instruction. Readings consist of novels and drama from authors including Sophocles, Shakespeare, Zora Neale Hurston, and Celeste Ng. Poetry is also studied and includes selections from poets such as Billy Collins, Gwendolyn Brooks, Langston Hughes, Shakespeare, Amanda Gorman, and Robert Frost among others.
  • Women Writing about Women (W)

    Open to Sixth and Fifth Formers. This course will consider women's voices in a variety of forms (stories, essays, novels, and poems), the issues these works raise, the roles heroines accept or reject, and the way we as readers respond to the ideas on the page. The reading list will include writings of Mary Wollstonecraft, Charlotte Bronte, Sojourner Truth, Virginia Woolf, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Sylvia Plath, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Nora Ephron, and Natasha Tretheway. Writing will take the form of journal responses, analytical essays, and narrative essays.
  • Writing Short Fiction (S)

    Open to Sixth and Fifth Formers. In a workshop setting, writers in this class read a selection of stories from The Best American Short Stories of the year, study Ursula LeGuin’s Steering the Craft (exercises and recommendations for fiction writers), and evaluate each other’s short stories. Students typically present a piece of short fiction once a week.

Our Faculty

  • Photo of Sravani Sen-Das
    Sravani Sen-Das
    English Department Head; Dean of Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging; Peter B. Camp Chair in English
    978-448-7720
    Bio
  • Photo of Irenae Aigbedion
    Irenae Aigbedion
    978-448-7466
    Bio
  • Photo of John Capen
    John Capen
    978-448-7815
    Bio
  • Photo of Peter Fry
    Peter Fry
    Elizabeth R. Peabody Chair
    978-448-7620
    Bio
  • Photo of Sabrina Gilchrist
    Sabrina Gilchrist
    978-448-7637
    Bio
  • Photo of Martha Gracey
    Martha Gracey
    978-448-0466
    Bio
  • Photo of Gareth Hadyk-DeLodder
    Gareth Hadyk-DeLodder
    Dorm Head
    978-448-7322
    Bio
  • Photo of Vuyelwa Maqubela
    Vuyelwa Maqubela
    English
    978-448-7214
    Bio
  • Photo of Joseph Martinez
    Joseph Martinez
    Dorm Head
    978-448-7324