We offer discussion-centered courses in literature and writing that equip students with analytical and communication skills while fostering a love of reading and literature. Our curriculum seeks to balance a traditional education in canonical texts with exposure to more contemporary works and a diversity of perspectives and cultural voices.

English Department Mission Statement

Sample Courses

Villains and Antiheroes

Ever since Adam in Genesis and Homer’s Odysseus, flawed protagonists have exposed the weaknesses and vulnerabilities commonly found in the human character. Through the study of such archetypal antiheroes, readers gain self-awareness and may guard themselves against such natural tendencies. But what happens when a reader identifies with a charismatic villain and starts rooting for the success of a diabolical scheme? This course will address these questions and others through the study of Satan in Milton’s Paradise Lost, one of Shakespeare’s great villains (Richard, Edmund, or Iago), and a contemporary work of fiction.

American Literature of the Sixties

Rising from the reverberations of Allen Ginsberg’s great Howl, the sixties were a decade of revolution, protest, polarization, liberation, experimentation, and promise. The fear of nuclear annihilation and the paranoia of the Cold War permeated the American psyche. The civil rights movement gave voice to disenfranchised African Americans and fueled the movement for women’s liberation. The conflict in Vietnam, raging violently in the East, was broadcast nightly on American television. The New Left protested for a new form of politics while the counterculture encouraged the youth of America to expand their consciousness. In all, the sixties were a wide-spread convergence of the political, the personal, the philosophical, and the artistic. Through the study of such writers as Ginsberg, Kerouac, Atwood, Mailer, Vonnegut, Plath, Friedan, Pynchon, King, X, Thompson, Baraka, Sexton, Kesey, Wolfe, and others, students will analyze how literature and other forms of art from the sixties reflect that turbulent and often romanticized decade.

Creative Writing

Taught by the Gilman Writing Fellow, this course is an intensive workshop in creative writing. Because each new Fellow will design the curriculum according to his or her interests and talents, the course content is variable; it will include elements in both fiction and poetry, and may cover playwriting. Students should expect to write daily, read the works of accomplished writers, and participate in critiques of one another’s writing in workshop format.

Plays and Playwriting

In this course, students will study the art and craft of playwriting as demonstrated by a diverse range of some of the world’s greatest playwrights, both canonical and contemporary. Emphasis in the reading assignments will be divided between one-act plays and full-length plays, and a strong early focus will be the study of classical dramatic structure, as first laid out by Aristotle in his Poetics, and extended to incorporate analyzation of other elements of the dramatic text such as action, character and language. Students will write various scenes over the course of the semester, and will eventually produce a one-act play by semester’s end. Students’ work will be read and roles will be assigned to be performed in the classroom by members of the class so that playwrights are able to hear and see their work read aloud.


In this course, students read closely and with care The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri. In addition, they also accept the challenge of also letting "Dante read us." Other complementary authors include C.S Lewis, Sam Keen, Dorothy L. Sayers, Barbara Reynolds, and Harry Chapin.

Sample Coordinate Courses

Detective Fiction

Offered at The Bryn Mawr School. This course will explore the ways in which detectives are involved in understanding the nature of human connections and social constructs. The nature of authority, in particular, seems to merit close scrutiny in the gritty, corrupt worlds created by many of our best detective writers. The course may begin with a close reading of Baltimore’s own Edgar Allen Poe before moving on to analysis of the fertile post-war writings of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, along with Jonathan Lethem's recent take on the genre, "Motherless Brooklyn." Students should expect to write in a variety of styles about both literature and film.

Coming of Age Literature

The liminal space between childhood and adulthood is imbued with equal parts mystery, confusion, revelation, and transformation. In this course, we will read a variety of voices, from a range of cultures and backgrounds, as authors inhabit the space of the bildungsroman, or coming-of-age story. We will analyze, discuss, and write about the moral and psychological changes faced by characters in their search for identity, truth, and meaning. The course will culminate in a modern bildungsroman project, in which students will tell the stories of their own journeys into adulthood. Texts may include Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street, Jamaica Kincaid’s Annie John, Jeanette Walls’ The Glass Castle, as well as selected poems and short stories. We will also view and analyze films, which may include Moonlight, An Education, The Fits, Lady Bird, and Almost Famous