Upper School Curriculum

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The Upper School English program emphasizes writing proficiency and the understanding and appreciation of literature. Students learn to perform close readings of progressively more demanding texts and to place works of literature in a historical context.

Active reading is encouraged and students are expected to take advantage of class discussions to ask questions, debate ideas, and make connections to other disciplines. Writing assignments are linked to the study of literature in order to deepen students’ understanding of genre, narrative technique, and thematic issues. We teach the nature of language and its correct use at all levels.

Four years of English are required for graduation. Grades 9 and 10 requirements are met by one-year courses. Grades 11 and 12 requirements are met by semester-long electives. Independent studies may also be developed by students to meet their interests and needs.
  • English 9

    English 9 challenges students to develop their own voices as critics and as writers, to think independently and reflectively, and to express their ideas clearly and powerfully. Throughout the year, students read challenging texts that explore questions about identity, culture, and the complexity of relationships. From Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, and Shelley’s Frankenstein, to Morrison’s The Bluest Eye and Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the range of works invites students to ask questions, so that they develop a deep understanding of how family, culture, race, and gender roles influence character choices and the development of narratives. Our thoughtful curriculum exposes students to a variety of literary styles and genres. In addition, students develop media literacy skills by making informed connections between the page and the screen. Class discussion and assignments emphasize close reading skills, informed speaking and active listening, rigorous literary analysis, and attention to the mechanics of writing.
  • English 10

    In English 10, students discuss and write about increasingly sophisticated and complex literature. The goal is for them to become better readers, writers, thinkers, and communicators. Through discussion, writing, and group activities, the course stresses independent critical thinking, literary analysis, and original interpretation. Special emphasis is placed on making connections between works of literature, students’ experiences, and the contemporary world at large. Students gain practice in a variety of writing styles, including formal essay, reflection papers, poetry, memoir/autobiography, and dramatic monologue. Class texts include F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, Shakespeare’s Othello, and Jeannette Walls’ The Glass Castle, among others.
  • Advanced American Literature

    Prerequisite: department approval
    In the 18th century, St. John de Crevecoeur famously asked, “What then is the American, this new man?” This question still preoccupies and puzzles thoughtful Americans. In the first semester of this yearlong course, we examine works that address this concern in three movements. Before doing so, however, we begin with a contemporary novel by Douglas Clegg that disturbs and challenges preconceptions about what American fiction has become. Then, returning to the three movements, we explore “The Birth of an American Self,” by looking at how 19th-century writers (specifically Mark Twain and Henry David Thoreau), confronted by nature on a scale inconceivable to their European forebears and by a new social and political order that strained the limits of individual sovereignty, set out to define a new sense of self and develop forms of imaginative expression that grew from their unusual circumstances. In “The Fracturing of American Identity,” we investigate the way 20th-century writers—particularly in the Lost Generation (Ernest Hemingway and T.S. Eliot) and, later, the Beat Generation (Jack Kerouac)—focused on the decay and growing alienation of the individual, a reflection of what they had witnessed in the horrors of both world wars. Last, students ponder “The Death of the American Dream” by focusing on writers such as Mary McCarthy, Arthur Miller, and Toni Morrison, who question the veracity of the ideals that continue to be vital to our national ethos.
  • Advanced British Literature

    Prerequisite: department approval
    Advanced British Literature is an invitation only course that allows students to deeply explore a specific body of literature. Reading and writing intensive, this college preparation course moves students through a range of complex texts at a quicker pace than other English electives. The aim of exposing students to a breadth of authors and genres is to develop robust and discerning readers and writers who will achieve at a high level in college literature classes. John of Gaunt, in Shakespeare’s Richard II, describes the British Isles as “This other Eden, demi-paradise,/ This fortress built by Nature for herself/ Against infection and the hand of war” (Act II, scene 1). Though he is bemoaning the current state of England under King Richard II’s leadership, his words hint at a nation that feels a sense of safety in its separateness and dominance. In this course, students read a wide variety of works, from the Anglo-Saxon conquest through the 21st century. Our early attention is on the honing of a British literary identity. We then focus on English writers who, over successive eras, crafted a robust voice that spoke of an island’s quest for global dominance—while simultaneously portraying the mental and moral vulnerability of those back home who were victims of Britain’s imperial lust. Our inquiry includes novels, plays, and poems by Charlotte Bronte, Geoffrey Chaucer, Joseph Conrad, Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes, Kazuo Ishiguro, William Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, Virginia Woolf, William Wordsworth, and others.
  • The American Short Story

    This course explores the historical development of the genre and the many unique and varied short story blueprints. Students trace a range of styles and narrative techniques from the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries, while examining the myriad ways the diverse American experience has been represented in the short story form. Authors include Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ernest Hemingway, Flannery O’Connor, Edgar Allan Poe, Mark Twain, John Updike, Alice Walker, and Eudora Welty, as well as other great writers. Students write one take-home analytical essay, one in-class essay, and at least four original short stories. They workshop their drafts in class and submit an original short story manuscript at the end of the semester.
  • The Anti-Hero

    In this course, students tackle stories featuring protagonists who do not necessarily fit the conventional definition of a hero. They explore the notion of what it means to be a hero, the definition of which can be difficult to determine and is often ambiguous. Many of the characters may challenge the student’s ability to empathize, but this is likely to change as they more closely examine each character’s unique circumstances. Texts include Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange (which facilitates discussion of the concept of free will), Camus’ The Stranger (contextualized by an introduction to 20th- century existentialism), and a variety of other short and full-length works. Students are expected to annotate and write responses to each reading, and to dissect each piece with a critical essay and/or creative project.
  • The Art of Short Fiction

    In his 1846 essay, “The Philosophy of Composition,” Edgar Allan Poe defined the short story as prose fiction that could be read in one sitting—approximately 20,000 words or less. He believed this limitation alone made it superior to the novel, and he would have been quite pleased to see its popularity grow in the latter half of the 19th and 20th centuries. In the last three decades in particular, there has been a reawakening and a transformation of the traditional short story; some have called it a short-fiction revolution. In this course, we explore the historical development of this genre and the many unique short-fiction blueprints. Students analyze the timeless short stories of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ernest Hemingway, Amy Hempel, Dorothy Parker, Edgar Allan Poe, Alice Walker, Eudora Welty, and other great writers. We also read the following novellas: Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, King’s Different Seasons, Oates’ Black Water, and Steinbeck’s The Moon is Down. Students are expected to write formal analytical essays, as well as compose their own original short story collection.
  • Dystopian Literature

    In this course, we explore the dystopian vision from a wide range of authors and perspectives. Together, we consider questions such as: What constitutes a dystopia? How is the perception of what makes a society undesirable or nightmarish historically and culturally relative? Can any vision of society be truly dystopian—or, by contrast, utopian? Texts may include Nabokov’s Bend Sinister, Orwell’s 1984, Zamyatin’s We, as well as Gilliam’s film, 12 Monkeys.
  • Exploring the Art of the Novella: Around the World in Eighty Pages

    In this course, we study many varieties of short fiction, paying particular attention to the novella. We explore a wide variety of texts from several cultures and time periods, with special consideration given to the way these formats differ from the novel. Featured authors include Kate Chopin, Franz Kafka, and Herman Melville, as well as more recent masters of short fiction, such as Margaret Atwood, Jim Harrison, Amy Hempel, and Joyce Carol Oates. Students write one take-home analytical essay, one in-class essay, and several pieces of short fiction. In addition, students workshop their drafts during class and submit an original collection of short fiction at the end of the semester.
  • The Family Memoir in Fiction and Personal Narrative

    Memories live differently in each of us. In families, a memory of a shared event is uniquely reshaped by each member. In this course, we explore how two authors “reinvent” their unusual family backgrounds through the memoir genre. We focus on how perspective, emotional subjectivity, and time influence how each story is told. What factors cause the storytellers to omit facts or add imagined scenarios to their memories? Who suffers or triumphs in the complex retelling of these life stories? We examine the Rashomon Effect (contradictory interpretations of the same event by different people) as a vehicle to understand how family perspectives are altered.
  • Feminist Waves in Women's Fiction

    A unique group of 19th century female authors recognized the psychological price paid by women when they expressed forbidden thoughts and actions. Although the struggle for equal rights was inevitably valued, the battle scars left a complex legacy of emotional suffering and socio-political setbacks. In the 1960s and 70s, female authors reclaimed the torch and voiced the second wave of domestic oppression in the lives of different American women. In this course, we explore how a group of women writers depicted the hidden costs paid by their fictional characters when they dared to assert themselves at home and in the outside world. We delve into how the intersectional factors of race and class affect the authors’ feminist viewpoints. From the polemical inspiration of Alvarez’s How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, French’s The Women’s Room, to the pivotal poetry and immigrant narrative of Shange’s for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf, and the complex stories of women are provocatively expressed. Subject to change, other texts may include Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories, Kaufman’s Diary of a Mad Housewife, and Naylor’s The Women of Brewster Place. A historical overview of the first and second waves of feminism is used as a theoretical framework for study. Supplemental reading from short stories and political essayists are included.
  • Going Against the Grain: Counterculture Literature in America

    In this course, we will explore some of the most socially influential texts that emerged from the historical counter-culture of the 1960s. Each text will illustrate a specific form of the social rebellion and cultural unrest that permeated this turbulent period. From an Oregon psychiatric hospital to a Greenwich Village nightclub, we will explore the many factors that caused the subjects of these works to vehemently rebel against the social constraints that impeded them. We will also focus on the stylistic changes in writing that emerged during this time and how these techniques allowed for bolder forms of artistic expression. The main texts will include Baldwin’s Another Country, Capote’s In Cold Blood, Kesey’s One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, and Stein’s Edie: American Girl. To provide a fuller contextual picture of these books, additional readings from selected articles, essays, poetry, and short stories will be used to broaden our awareness of different countercultural artists. Specifically, The New York Public Library’s “Remembering the 60s” exhibition will be the central frame in which key course concepts are examined. In addition, iconic films and field trips to cultural sites featuring the 1960s will also be included in our exploration of the authors and their indelible literary messages.
  • Hell Is Other People

    This course is designed to have as its center Sartre’s play, No Exit, which contains the infamous line from which the title derives. We will spend the semester reading and discussing texts (plays, novels, short stories) in which the protagonists are psychologically (and sometimes physically) tormented by both the individuals they encounter and the social structures that dictate behavioral norms. As a counterpoint, we will also explore how the characters often cause their own anguish. Many of the stories feature protagonists who do not necessarily embody the conventional definition of a hero. We will explore the notion of what it means to be a hero, the definition for which can be difficult to pin down and is often ambiguous. Some of the characters may challenge your ability to empathize, but this is likely to change as we more closely examine each character’s unique circumstances. Much of the course will be contextualized by an introduction to 20th century existentialism, which we will use as a lens through which to read many of the texts. In addition to No Exit, other texts include Abe’s The Face of Another, Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, Albert Camus’ The Stranger, and Spike Lee’s film Do the Right Thing.
  • Literary Transformations

    This course explores the strange phenomenon of the literary afterlife—texts that are reinterpreted, revised, and reinvented by successive generations. We look at a range of forms this transformation can take—from cultural shifts and modernizations, to parodies and reboots—and consider what it means for a text to refashion an earlier work: What can the tradition of adaptation tell us about our ideas of originality and authenticity? Does the project of rewriting allow voices marginalized by race, class, or gender access to the canon? Texts may include Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, adapted as the novel Bridget Jones’s Diary, and the Bollywood film Bride and Prejudice; Dangerous Liaisons, a novel about a vicious 18th-century love affair adapted, in Cruel Intentions, as a film about a New York City independent school; and Heart of Darkness, a novella about European colonialism in Africa which became Apocalypse Now, a movie about America’s involvement in Vietnam; and the movie Adaptation.
  • Modern Japanese Literature

    In this course, students are introduced to some of the major writers and thinkers from late 19th century to early 21st century Japan. We explore modern Japan by studying authors from every era of the nation since the Meiji Restoration. As these eras directly coincide with the reign of each emperor, we note that each is characterized by a distinct political and cultural spirit. Students examine the struggle of national identity, as the Japanese attempt to reconcile centuries of tradition with the desire to become a modern—and consequently, a more Westernized—nation. This moves us into the interwar years, in which Japan feels compelled to prove itself to the West, and on to the postwar years, which are fraught with uncertainty, angst, and fear. Finally, we reach contemporary life, with Japan as one of the world’s safest and most advanced nations. To provide a deeper framework for understanding the cultural context, students are also exposed to some aspects of the Japanese language and the historical and philosophical forces that have shaped Japanese thought for hundreds of years. Students are expected to annotate and write responses to each reading, and to dissect each overall piece through a critical essay and/or creative project.
  • The 19th-Century Novel: The Art of the De-Centered Self

    In 1915, Freud announced that humanity was like a deposed tyrant, the victim of revolutions—first by Copernicus (who proved that the earth isn’t the center of the universe), next by Darwin (who showed that humanity isn’t the center of the natural world) and then by Freud himself (who argued that the conscious mind isn’t the center of personality). As a result, people could no longer make sense of their lives by appealing to a larger system—but, instead, had to find meaning in the present. The realist novel is the great cultural document of this era, charting both the anxiety and the liberation of this collective sense of living on the margins.

    This course examines some of the key novels of the 19th century, with a particular emphasis on how they construct meaning out of the apparent randomness of the human condition. Our texts will include Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities (which depicts the chaos of revolutions and the refuge of private life), Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South (which represents the struggle between social classes as an economic “survival of the fittest”), Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone (which hinges on the dominant role of the unconscious), Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (which explores the political consequences of radical de-centering), and H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine (an early science-fiction novel, which imagines our historical moment dwarfed by a larger cosmic story).
  • Other Voices at the Intersection: Cultural Identity Fiction

    A companion to the Feminist Waves in Women’s Fiction course, this elective focuses on the intersectional experiences of “other” women at the crossroads of race and class. From the pivotal poetry and fiction of Ntozake Shange, to the compelling immigrant narrative of Julia Alvarez, the stories of African American and Latina women are provocatively expressed. We read these texts from the authors’ deeply personal viewpoint, and explore how their work significantly inspired the inclusion of new cultural perspectives in women’s literature. Texts include Alvarez’s novel How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, Shange’s choreopoem for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf, and his novel Liliane.
  • Radical Texts: Poetry, Politics & Performance

    A cross divisional, interdisciplinary, team-taught course that fulfills the 11th- and 12th-grade English elective requirement, this class addresses the writer as artist and performer. Students examine a wide range of alternative, mainstream, and experimental theatrical and literary genres. Units include solo spoken word, slam poetry, epic theatre, street theatre, fringe theatre, Commedia dell’Arte, and, ideally, a smattering of both performance and conceptual art. In addition to the analytical examination and discussion of selected texts, students are expected to participate in the creation and performance of original, written, theatrical, and poetic works. This is as much a creative class as it is an analytical one—and, fittingly, divides class meeting locations between a classroom and the theatre. Students also participate in required trips, both in the evening and during the school day. Past classes have attended evening performances at La Mama Experimental Theatre and poetry workshops at The Nuyorican Poets Café. Texts for the year include works by Aristophanes, Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco, Charles Ludlam’s Ridiculous Theater, Luigi Pirandello, The San Francisco Mime Troupe, Tom Stoppard, several complete volumes of contemporary poetry, and more. You do not need to be a drama student to take this class. Talent and experience are appreciated, but optional.


  • Photo of Jason Tarbath
    Jason Tarbath
    Grades 9-12 English Teacher and English Department Chair
  • Photo of William Evans
    William Evans
    Upper School, English Teacher and Advisor
  • Photo of Natalka Freeland
    Natalka Freeland
    Upper School English Teacher & Advisor
  • Photo of Melanie Greenup
    Melanie Greenup
    Upper School, English Teacher and Advisor
    (212) 426-3360
  • Photo of Pamela Murphy
    Pamela Murphy
    Upper School, English Teacher and Advisor, Dean of the Class of 2019
  • Photo of Kevin Smith
    Kevin Smith
    Upper School, English Teacher & Advisor
Ambitious academics.  Engaged students.  Balanced lives.

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