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The English Department seeks to immerse students in the world of writing, the students’ own as well as that of exemplary literature drawn from a broad range of literary traditions and cultures. As students study works that vary in genre, period, author, and origin, their task remains the same: to learn not only what a work means but also how it means. The achievement of successful writing lies in how that particular piece is built. While the overall aesthetic impact of writing is never overlooked, students study the structure and tropes that shape such work. We aim to teach our students how to read closely, thoughtfully, with empathy, and with open minds. In their own writing, they are encouraged to be authentic, cogent, imaginative, and precise. Ultimately, we hope that the skills they develop here will engender a life-long love of reading and writing that will ensure them an active intellectual life beyond Groton.
Listed below are numerous English electives as well as the English courses required each year.
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.
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.
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.
Open to Sixth and Fifth Formers. A New York Times article in 1998 posited that “Queer Theory,” a growing academic discourse championed by Judith Butler and Eve Sedgwick (among others), was beginning to enter mainstream US literary culture. Since then, queer theory has expanded further into universities, the public domain, and politics, shedding its 19th-century connotation as a derogatory term along the way. Centrally, queer theory prompts us to question the ways in which societies have created and regulated categories of “normal” and “abnormal” in terms of sexuality, identity, and more. This course will examine both its critical foundations—drawing on some of the writings of Butler, Sedgwick, Michel Foucault, Jack Halberstam, and others—and its transformative role in reading literature and other texts with which we interact regularly. Course readings might include works by Alison Bechdel, Oscar Wilde, Alice Walker, Andrew Sean Greer, Patricia Highsmith, Jeanette Winterson, Audre Lorde, and more, and students can expect 2-3 papers, reading responses, and a presentation.
Open to Sixth and Fifth Formers. What is a dictator? What is a demagogue? Why do people follow them so blindly? This course explores ideas about dictators and demagogues by focusing on literature and films that portray such people, as well as by learning about actual dictators in the world today. Texts and films will include Shakespeare’s Richard III, Bertold Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui (based on Hitler), a Ken Burns’ documentary on the life of Huey Long, and Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator, among others.
Open to Sixth Formers. Expository Writing is a required course that focuses on the personal essay. Students read a range of published essays and serve as readers and editors of their classmates’ work. Students typically produce four essays, which they revise extensively with the help of their teacher and peers. The course emphasizes the role of revision in the writing process and the deep relationship between good thinking and good writing.
Teachers of this course present thematic and stylistic approaches to literature and encourage the reading, thinking, and discussion appropriate to each. Critical writing is of paramount importance, but students write from personal experience and creatively as well. Writing at this level encourages more sophisticated expression in which students display a keener sense of syntax and structure than in previous years as well as a stronger sense of voice. Most Fifth Form students choose to take Advanced Placement examinations in English Language and/or Literature at the end of the year. All Fifth Form students read Shakespeare’s Hamletand Toni Morrison’s Beloved.
In the Fourth Form students move from the study and appreciation of literature in general to an examination of particular genres: short fiction, drama, and poetry. The goal is to provide students with an appropriate vocabulary for discussing and writing about each genre. Writing assignments include both the analytical and the personal or creative, with an emphasis on the former. Through opportunities such as performing scenes and reciting poetry, students will gain an appreciation for the spoken word. Alongside a diverse range of short fiction - including works by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, James Baldwin, Ha Jin, Gabriel García Márquez, Flannery O'Connor, and others - Fourth Form students read a Shakespearean tragedy, Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, and Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies.
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.
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.
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 its “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.
Open to Sixth and Fifth Formers. In this class, we will start with some excerpts of Gothic literature from the 18th and 19th century, 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.
Open to Sixth and Fifth Formers. What is Native American literature? How do we distinguish "authentic" representation from stereotypes? In this course, you will read a number of works by Native American authors, including novels, short fiction, poetry, myths, and non-fiction. You'll read There There by Tommy Orange (Cheyenne/Arapaho) and poetry by Simon Ortiz (Acoma Pueblo), Luci Tapahonso (Navajo), Joy Harjo (Muskogee), and Ofelia Zepeda (Tohono O'odham), among others. You'll also read short fiction and non-fiction by authors such as Zitkala-Sa (Yankton Sioux), Vine Deloria (Standing Rock Sioux), and N. Scott Momaday (Kiowa). You'll be introduced to traditional trickster and origin stories, and you'll watch at least one film, Reel Injuns, a documentary that explores the portrayal of Native Americans in movies. The writing for this course will consist of a reader's response journal on a novel, a personal narrative related to one or more of your ancestors, and poems focused on place and identity.
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.
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.
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.
Open to Sixth and Fifth Formers. This course uses text and film to explore 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 will ask 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 how identity is shaped, concealed, and revealed.
Second Form English is designed to develop students' reading, writing, speaking, listening, and critical thinking skills. Students learn to work collaboratively through class discussions and a variety of group activities. Studying a range of genres, the class focuses on developing close reading skills, improving students' ability to understand plot, character, and main ideas as well as on extending their ability to make inferences. Writing assignments range from the imaginative to the analytical, from journal entries to formal papers. Students study grammar formally to provide them with a common language with which to discuss their writing. All Second Form students read a Shakespearean comedy, and core texts representing a diversity of voices include, Sold by Patricia McCormick, Night by Elie Wiesel, To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, and Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi.
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.
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.
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 strengthens students’ ability to read and write with confidence and precision. Students learn to listen carefully, participate thoughtfully, and close read texts in order to craft their own interpretations of the readings in class discussions. Teachers extend this discourse by designing writing assignments that prompt students to deepen their understanding of the texts and strengthen their analytical skills. Students work to express their written analysis more clearly by studying organization, grammar, and mechanics. By the end of Third Form, teachers will expect students to understand the basic structure of an essay and to be increasingly adept at providing evidence to support their thinking. All Third Form students read Oedipus the King, a Shakespearean comedy, and Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God.
Open to Sixth and Fifth Formers. In this course students will have the chance to study the lives and works of Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, and Edna St. Vincent Millay. While their styles and sensibilities differ greatly, these poets each bring to life aspects of New England life, scenery, and attitudes in the poetic worlds they create. This course will not be offered in 2014-15.
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.
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.
English Department Head and Director of Diversity and Inclusion Sravani Sen-Das taught at schools in India and England prior to joining the Groton faculty in 1999. Within her field, she has a special interest in classic modern literature, especially the works of James Joyce. Sravani has taught at all levels—from Second to Sixth Form—since her arrival; she currently teaches Fifth Form English and offers electives on T.S. Eliot’s Waste Land and on “reading" classic film. Sravani has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Delhi, as well as a master’s in English from the University of London and a PGCE from Oxford University. She lives on campus with her husband Nishad, a mathematics teacher and director of Global Education, and her three children, Zahin ’16, Ishana ’19, and Vivan '23.
John Capen joined Groton’s English department in 1999. Prior to teaching at Groton, John taught in Japan, Oregon, and Maine. In addition to teaching courses in literature and creative writing, he advises the School's literary magazine, The Grotonian, and previously has advised the newspaper, The Circle Voice,John currently coaches boys cross country and squash. He has coached JV soccer, directed plays, and ran an Upper School dorm.
John has a BA from Haverford College, an MA from the Bread Loaf School of English, and a M.Ed from Harvard University. John loves to travel with his wife and children. During his recent sabbatical, they visited colleagues and friends in the Philippines, India, Istanbul, Morocco, and France. This active and traveling lifestyle sheds some light on another of John’s passions, running marathons, which has taken him to some of his favorite locations in Boston, Mount Desert Island, and Rome.
Peter Fry joined the Groton faculty in 2005 after working at schools in Ohio, Vermont, Morocco, and Maryland. As an English teacher, Peter works with third, fifth, and sixth formers, taking great pleasure in helping his students to become more skilled writers and more attentive readers. Peter has a special interest in 19th-century British fiction and offers an elective each year in that area. His decision to pursue a career in boarding school education owes much to his own experience as a student at Exeter, where he was profoundly influenced by inspiring teachers and coaches. As an undergraduate at Yale, Peter majored in History of Art, played rugby, and sang with the Whiffenpoofs. Spending two years in Vermont earning a master’s degree in English and Education at UVM enabled Peter to combine his professional interests with his love of the outdoors and the New England landscape. An avid runner, hiker, and cyclist, Peter appreciates the natural beauty of Groton’s campus and its extensive network of surrounding wooded trails.
Sabrina Gilchrist teaches Third and Fourth Form English, and she coaches volleyball. She holds a BA, MA, and PhD in literature with specializations in Victorian literature and women’s studies. She also enjoys television studies and comics (Green Arrow and Sandman are her favorites).
Before coming to Groton, Sabrina taught a range of classes in literature, composition, and humanities at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, the University of Florida, and Culver Academies. Sabrina is passionate about diversity, inclusion, and sustainability, and works to incorporate these themes into every class.
Outside of the world of education, Sabrina loves to travel—her favorite trips have been to Cornwall and Florence, and she hopes to go to Ireland and Scotland soon. When not teaching, coaching, or traveling, Sabrina enjoys cooking, cycling, kayaking, drinking tea, and rescuing dogs.
Martha Gracey teaches English, coaches field hockey, and serves on a variety of committees that benefit from her long-time involvement in boarding schools. Her passion in the classroom is American Literature, ranging from Southern writers, such as Twain, Faulkner, and Welty, to New England writers, including Dickinson, Emerson, Hawthorne, and Frost. What resonates for her about teaching literature is that, as Frost said, it “provides a clarification of life . . . a momentary stay against confusion.”
Before working at Groton School, Martha spent most of her teaching career at The Lawrenceville School, where she served as dean of students, English teacher, house parent, and varsity field hockey and lacrosse coach. She has a BA from Bates College and an MA from Trinity College. Martha and her husband Ian, Groton’s director of admission, have three daughters, Katherine ’12, Becca ’14, and Lizzy. They spend their summers in an old farmhouse on the coast of Maine.
Gareth Hadyk-DeLodder teaches Third- and Fourth-Form English, coaches girls soccer and basketball, and serves as a dorm head. He joined Groton’s English department after teaching at Culver Academies for the past two years, where he was a humanities instructor and soccer coach. Previously, he taught composition and literature at the University of Florida. He loves traveling and has lived in both England and Spain during (and between) his studies.
Gareth holds a BA in English literature from the University of Maryland and an MA from the University of Florida, and he is completing his PhD in English literature at UF. An admitted Anglophile, he has written on and taught Jane Austen, the Brontës, and George Eliot, among others—a powerhouse group of women writers he enjoys talking about endlessly—and he remains a devoted fan of Liverpool FC. He should be found wrapping up his dissertation in his spare time, and he will also make sporadic appearances cavorting with his dogs, cycling, planning trips, and discussing new books to read.
Having emigrated from her native South Africa, Vuyelwa came to Groton by way of Gaborone, Botswana; Bronx, New York; and Andover, Massachusetts. She earned her BA at the University of Fort Hare in South Africa, with a double major in English and psychology. She completed a higher diploma in education and an honors in African Literature from the University of Witwatersrand, and later continued her studies at Lesley University, subsequently earning a master's in education.
Vuyelwa has taught English for more than 20 years. She thinks of education as a tool for liberation and empowerment. She asks her students not only to "build on what they know," but also to "unlearn some of what they know." An avid reader herself, Vuyelwa opens her students' hearts and minds to the world around them through literature and keeps her own heart and mind genuinely open to her students' voices—learning with them and from them. Her experience in independent schools includes working on diversity initiatives, running girls' and boys' dorms, and coaching track. Vuyelwa loves to cook, eat good food, and bask in the sun by the ocean.
Ellen Rennard came to Groton School in 2003 after teaching for many years in Tucson, St. Louis, and Albuquerque. A published writer of poetry, essays, and book reviews, Ellen especially enjoys helping her students to develop their writing skills. She also loves to travel and lived in Jordan for two years. She has a BA from Princeton University and an MA from the Bread Loaf School of English.
Ellen brings her love of books and her skills as a photographer to her position as yearbook advisor at Groton. Her photographs have appeared in numerous exhibitions and publications. Her daughter, son-in-law, and two grandchildren live in London.