The Upper School English program focuses on literature, writing, critical thinking, and discussion skills. Students read a variety of literary genres while learning to write critical literary analysis. The reading list may be supplemented from year to year in response to student interest. Essay writing and creative writing are incorporated into every required course. Grammar is taught in the context of written work and through direct instruction. Ninth and tenth grade English are year-long, thematic courses that are also offered at an Intensive level. Intensive courses follow the core curriculum, but allow students the chance to explore topics more deeply and independently, and with a greater focus on critical thinking and analysis. In the eleventh and twelfth grades, students select from an array of semester courses.

The Fall from Innocence (Grade 9)

This course centers on the theme of “The Fall from Innocence.” During the first quarter, students are introduced to the concept of “The Fall” through a close reading of the first chapters of Genesis. This approach provides the foundation for the remaining texts, which include How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, Julia Alvarez; The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson; Macbeth, William Shakespeare; and The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger, as well as selections from contemporary writers such as Toni Morrison and Sandra Cisneros. Students participate in the Poetry Out Loud competition to complement a unit of poetic performance. Students read and review an additional outside reading book during each marking period, either one of their own choosing or one required by the teacher. Grammar is studied both in the context of written work and through direct instruction. Students are evaluated on the basis of their performance on tests and quizzes, expository and personal essays, fiction writing, and class participation. This course is also offered in an Intensive format.

Heroes and Heroines (Grade 10)

Tenth grade includes an investigation of the characteristics and challenges of “The Heroic Journey” through a variety of classical and contemporary literary texts. Readings include The Odyssey, Homer; Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë; The Penelopiad, Margaret Atwood; Anthem, Ayn Rand; Cannery Row, John Steinbeck; and The Taming of the Shrew, William Shakespeare. Although analytical essays are regularly assigned, much of the second semester is focused on personal writing. Students use the theme of the journey as a means of self-investigation, reflection, and memoir writing. This work culminates in the writing of a 10-page autobiography, themed and designed by the students themselves. This course is also offered in an Intensive format.

American Hubris: The National Identity

The question of American identity—who we are and where we are headed as we move toward the end of the second decade of the 21st century—is the central focus of the class. By acting as literary critics and cultural anthropologists, the class seeks to understand themselves and their times. Students consider a diverse array of pointed and conflicting conceptions of contemporary American identity as portrayed in novels, films, television, and various artifacts from popular culture. As participants as well as observers of the culture, students are asked to be particularly alert to what resonates forcefully for each of them as they search for the national identity. Novels may include The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Mohsin Hamid; A Visit from the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan; The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz; Animal Dreams, Barbara Kingsolver; A Hologram for the King, Dave Eggers; Casebook, Mona Simpson; The Free, Willy Vlautin; and Redeployment, Phil Klay. Films may include Crash, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Margin Call, and Winter’s Bone. The class may also study selected episodes from television series such as The Wire.

American Exceptionalism: Common Ideals for all Except...

This course examines the many sides of American exceptionalism—the belief that there is a uniquely American ideology based on shared values of liberty, democracy, and free markets, among others. Students explore such questions as: What were the original expressions of this American ideal? Who was included and who became “the exception”? Beginning with early slave narratives, students investigate how race, gender, and political and social changes have shaped our national identity. Readings may include Harriet E. Wilson (Our Nig, Sketches from the Life of a Free Black), Harriet Beecher Stowe (Uncle Tom’s Cabin), Kate Chopin (The Awakening), and essays by Emerson, Thoreau, and W.E.B. Du Bois.

Wind over the Quarter: Seafaring, Swashbuckling, and Storytelling

This course immerses students in seafaring literature, from whaling to piracy and more. From Herman Melville’s classic novel of American identity, Moby Dick, to Colin Woodard’s The Republic of Pirates, students study how the sea has shaped the American narrative. Novels will include Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News, Ruth Moore’s The Weir, Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, and Herman Wouk’s The Caine Mutiny. The class also explores poetry, short stories, folklore, and introspective writings like Billy Budd (Melville), The Hairy Ape (Eugene O’Neill), and Stern Men (Elizabeth Gilbert). The curriculum is extended through collaboration with the Portland Museum of Art and the Maine Maritime Museum.

American Idealism: 18th- and 19th-Century American Literature

This class examines the search for and creation of a national identity. From the first American novel about adultery (The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne) to early folktales and Gothic legends, this course investigates the racial, gender, political, and social changes that shaped our national identity. Readings may include the poetry of Mercy Otis Warren and Emily Dickinson; the stories of Edgar Allan Poe, Washington Irving, Charles Chesnutt, and Harriet Beecher Stowe; essays by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and W.E.B. Du Bois; and novels by Mark Twain and Harriet E. Wilson.

Literature of New York City

Using a variety of genres and historical periods, this course looks at the exotic, eccentric, and energetic city of New York and its compelling inhabitants. Pieces range from the 19th-century Melville classic Bartleby the Scrivener to the contemporary protest of Sapphire’s Push. Although the pieces are studied in chronological order, the intent of the class is to examine particular voices, themes, myths, and issues of a city that epitomizes the raw power of the American dream and its failures. Works may include titles by Henry James, Anzia Yezierska’s Bread Givers, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, and Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin. Students may also study the short stories of E.B. White, Grace Paley, and Philip Roth, as well as the poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay, Frank O’Hara, and Hart Crane.

The Mystique of Maine: A Literature of Wilderness, Town, and Shore

Maine has a special place in the minds of readers. Perhaps it is because it is the Dawn Land, a coast of rocky shores, and a place of villages, wilderness, and waterways. Perhaps it is because of the Yankee spirit and stoic disposition of its people. From Sarah Orne Jewett to Stephen King, and Henry David Thoreau to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, students explore the mystique of Maine. In Kenneth Roberts’s Arundel, they travel with Colonel Benedict Arnold on his 1775 voyage up the Kennebec River to attack Québec; steer a lobster boat in Elizabeth Gilbert’s island novel, Stern Men; and experience small-town drama in Carolyn Chute’s The Beans of Egypt, Maine. Analytical essays, fiction, and poetry writing are components of this class.

Pulitzer Prize Winners: Taking the Prize

This course considers selected winners of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Through class discussion and analytical writing, students explore thematic, linguistic, and structural elements and make critical assessments of these books. There are also opportunities for students to study creative writing in a variety of genres. Authors may include Michael Chabon, Booth Tarkington, Thornton Wilder, Richard Ford, Pearl S. Buck, John Hersey, Saul Bellow, James Agee, Alice Walker, Ernest Hemingway, and Jhumpa Lahiri.

The Sound and Fury of Southern Literature

The literature of the South is an intriguing blend of mannerly gentility and the macabre. Works often bear the imprint of social, racial, and sexual tension, all just beneath an ever-pleasant facade. Regional writers celebrate the geography, the language, and the people of the South, as well as its agrarian roots. Authors may include William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, Eudora Welty, James Dickey, Thomas Wolfe, Alice Walker, Kate Chopin, Richard Wright, and Mark Twain.

The Vietnam War Through Literature and Film

This course focuses on novels, short stories, poetry, expository writing, and screenplays about the Vietnam War written from a variety of points of view: the soldiers, family members, war protesters, and Vietnamese citizens. Several popular films that depicted the war are discussed and contrasted with other visual images that have become imprinted on our culture’s memory—images ranging from wartime photography to the look and the iconography of war memorials, such as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. Readings may include Greene, The Quiet American; O’Brien, The Things They Carried; Mason, In Country; Bao Ninh, The Sadness of War; Le Ly Hayslip, When Heaven and Earth Changed Places; and stories and memoirs such as Santoli’s Everything We Had; Kerr’s Dispatches; and Wolff’s In Pharaoh’s Army. Films may include The Green Berets, Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket, and Platoon.

Postmodern Literature: Embrace the Chaos

Is it possible for a fictional story to represent the truth more accurately than reality? Can authors represent truth more effectively by reinventing traditional narrative techniques? Students explore these topics by examining postmodern literary techniques such as unreliable narration and metafiction that turn traditional narrative modes inside out and call into question that which seems true. Readings may include Lost in the Funhouse by John Barth, Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, Jazz by Toni Morrison, and A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. Other possible authors include Chuck Palahniuk, Tim O’Brien, and David Foster Wallace. Possible films include Big Fish and The Truman Show.

Nevertheless, She Persisted: A Study of Women's Voices

This course considers the evolving experiences of women as revealed in a variety of genres, including poetry, prose, and plays. Students discuss how views of women and their perceptions of themselves have changed in the past century (e.g., how class, race, geography, and sexual orientation shape women’s lives). Students analyze the voices of women from different backgrounds and time periods, including Edith Wharton, Willa Cather, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Gertrude Stein, Virginia Woolf, Zora Neale Hurston, Dorothy Parker, Heidi Julavits, Grace Paley, Ursula Le Guin, Sylvia Plath, Jhumpa Lahiri, Eudora Welty, and Julia Alvarez.

African Literature: A Question of Power

Although distinct in countless ways, African cultures throughout the continent have a common experience that has shaped their destinies—namely the rapid conquest by the West in the latter part of the 19th century, the often brutal colonial rule that followed, and the sudden independence from the West starting in the latter half of the 20th century. The novel and film as art forms created by black Africans are relatively new, arising concurrently with the independence movement. Thus, the work of African novelists and filmmakers is key to the struggle to shape African identity that followed political independence, as Africans themselves took over the African narrative, which previously had been told all too often by Western outsiders. This course will orient the students within the literature and identify core themes that help illuminate the contemporary African experience. Novels may include Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad; Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe; God’s Bits of Wood, Sembene Ousmane; The Bride Price, Buchi Emecheta; When Rain Clouds Gather, Bessie Head; Radiance of Tomorrow, Ishmael Beah; We Need New Names, Noviolet Bulawayo; and The Heart of Redness, Zakes Mda. Films may include Mister Johnson, Xala, and Sometimes in April.

Do the Right Thing: Ethics in Literature and Film

People have told stories as a means of making sense of the world since we have had language—from the oldest prehistoric cave paintings in Spain to dinner table tales in our own lives. This course is designed to explore the common roots of ethical thinking and apply these ideals to literature from around the world. A brief unit on ancient codes—from the Hebrew Bible and the Koran to Western philosophers such as Aristotle, Kant, and Camus—provides a framework for identifying ethical questions in literature. The course then explores how authors have posed and wrestled with such ideas through time. The readings cut across genres, time periods, and cultures and range from children’s tales to contemporary African drama. Titles may include Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice; Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman; White’s Charlotte’s Web; Huxley’s Brave New World, Collins’s The Hunger Games; Beah’s A Long Way Gone; Tolstoy’s Death of Ivan Ilyich; Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians; and Sartre’s No Exit. Films may include Do the Right Thing, A Man for All Seasons, Blade Runner, Erin Brockovich, Slumdog Millionaire, and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

A Fantastic Journey: Reading and Writing in Lands Beyond

Fantasy literature has moved from a bit player to a robust star in the literary heavens. In this course, students are challenged to investigate and analyze why fantasy holds such allure and where its roots lie. Students begin with a brief look at some essential source materials, from ancient myths to works like Beowulf, The Tempest, or Gulliver’s Travels. The class then reads extensively in the genre, beginning with a close reading of The Hobbit and going on to excerpts from The Lord of the Rings. Other works or authors that may be used include Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea and works by Lewis Carroll and C.S. Lewis, as well as contemporary works such as the Harry Potter series and The Hunger Games. This is a class for the fantasy fan. In addition to the readings there will be a self-designed research project and a 35-page writing assignment of fantasy fiction.

Myth, Folktale, and Children’s Literature

What do the earliest books we read teach us about childhood, adults, animals, history, class, and gender? This course will explore various representations of myth, folktales, and children’s literature. It examines the transition from picture books to graphic novels and compares stories from around the world, while also focusing on what older readers bring to these works. Works studied may include Haroun and the Sea of Stories, Animal Farm, The Golden Compass, Alice in Wonderland, The Arrival, Persepolis, Tintin, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and African folktales.

Perpetrators and Victims: Literature of Genocide

Through a variety of genres, this course examines the prevalence of genocide in modern civilization. The class will struggle with the questions: How do apparently normal people subject others to atrocity and murder? How do societies promote, condone, or prevent genocide? How do individuals and countries survive emotionally, culturally, and politically? What, if anything, can be done to prevent genocide in the future? The course examines genocide from a historical and political perspective through memoir, essay, fiction, and poetry. Possible titles include This Way to the Gas, Ladies and Gentleman, Borowski (Holocaust of World War II); Imagining Argentina, Thornton (Argentina); and Johnny Mad Dog, Dongala (Congo).

The Play's the Thing: A Dramaturgy Course

The object of this course is to read plays from the perspective of a stage director. Students study a wide variety of plays, view digital and live productions, write dramaturgical analyses, and peer-teach plays read outside of class. Additionally, students research the author and production history of each play and attend plays in the Portland area (the course requires attendance at one off- or on-campus production after school hours). The course has a global perspective that may include William Shakespeare (England), Samuel Beckett (Ireland), Aristophanes (Greece), Wole Soyinka (Nigeria), Daphne du Maurier (United Kingdom), Kwame Kwei-Armah (United Kingdom), Manuel Puig (Argentina), Maria Arbatova (Russia), Nilo Cruz (Cuba), Hanif Kureishi (United Kingdom), Harold Pinter (United Kingdom), Rabindranath Tagore (India), and Agatha Christie (United Kingdom).

Russian Literature

Using literature primarily from 1850 to 2007, this elective is designed as a sweeping introduction to the literature of the pre-Soviet, Soviet, and post-Soviet periods in Russian writing. Course readings may include Gogol’s play The Government Inspector, Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons, Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago, and a series of short stories ranging from the classics of Anton Chekhov to modern writers such as Solzhenitsyn. Also included is a selection of poetry from Pushkin to contemporary poets. Classwork also includes critical articles about the major texts and writing analytical essays.

Self and Society: 19th-Century British Literature

The 19th century in England brought with it new ideas, inventions, and philosophies that challenged the certainties of self, the belief in meaningful experience, and the relationship between men, women, and personal power. The continuing sophistication of the novel form and the advent of lending libraries allowed the novel, with its emphasis on the social changes of the day, to mirror the changing concerns of the time. This course will look at how authors viewed the tensions and questions of self in a changing world. Texts may include Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen; Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë; Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë; Frankenstein, Mary Shelley; Hard Times, Charles Dickens; and Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy. The class is discussion-based, with student-led classes. Filmed adaptations may be viewed and analyzed after reading the texts.

Shakespeare in Print, Production, and Film

Imagine that Shakespeare could view his plays as they have been adapted for contemporary stage, film, and theater performance. This course is designed to immerse students in Shakespeare’s works through critical reading, stage performance, and film in order to learn how his plays were meant to come to life. The work of the course includes critical reading and writing, as well as some performance work and memorization by each student. Students read four of Shakespeare’s major plays. Choices may vary but will include at least one comedy and one tragedy.

The Shock of the New: Modern British Literature

The subject of this class is the fall from the Victorian ideal of progress into the complexities and anxieties of the modern era. Starting with core texts that characterize Modernism, the readings take the student through the key British writers of the 20th century. In addition to poetry, texts may include Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness; James Joyce, Dubliners; Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway; Pat Barker, Regeneration; Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange; Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go; and Jeanette Winterson, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. Written work may include an essay or test on each core text, weekly in-class writings, one student-taught class, and an outside reading choice and project.

Spinning the Globe: Readings from Around the World

This course seeks to investigate how our world becomes smaller through the sharing of literature from around the world. From classic European writers to the diversity of contemporary authors from South America, Haiti, Japan, Africa, and China, students consider what world authors share in craft, style, narrative, themes, and characterization. The depth of inquiry includes contrasts/similarities of cultural and political contexts with an eye toward expanding our own. Selected works may include In the Pond, Ha Jin (China); The Wall, Jean-Paul Sartre (France); Death of Ivan Ilyich, Leo Tolstoy (Russia); Krik? Krak!, Edwidge Danticat (Haiti); and Bride Price, Buchi Emecheta (Nigeria).

Short Works of the Greats: Literature in Translation

This course is an opportunity to study the works of acknowledged greats through translations of some of their shorter stories, novels, and novellas. Many of these works were among the last creations of these writers, who refined their talents into these small gems of distinction. Close-passage analysis and attention to the subtler aspects of the works are a key feature of this course. Writings may include One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Alexander Solzhenitsyn; Love in a Fallen City, Eileen Chang; Gigi, Colette; The Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka; The Wall, Jean-Paul Sartre; and Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Writers' Workshop

The goal of this workshop is to strengthen each student’s process of writing as a means of discovery and expression. Students write daily to gain practice and authority in response writing. They keep journals as a means of free writing and as a source for later papers. Readings of contemporary essays provide models of writing styles. Students are required to do extensive drafting of both personal and expository pieces and write a minimum of four fully realized essays during the semester. Peer and teacher reviews are integral to this process. Course readings include The Color of Water by James McBride and selections from The Norton Sampler and The Least You Should Know about English.

Essay Writing

Students in this course explore the art and technique of personal essay writing, with a focus on developing style and voice through drafting and revision. Frequent readings of contemporary and classic essays provide models for the writing assignments. The hallmarks of the class are nightly journal writing, peer review, and teacher and small-group workshop meetings. Students write and revise five essays during the course of a semester, at times targeting their writing for a specific audience or presentation style. Students are expected to act as peer editors and may be asked to lead a discussion of an essay. In addition to selected readings, texts may include Strunk and White’s Elements of Style and The Norton Sampler.

Writing Ars Poetica: The Art of Poetry

“A poem should not mean but be,” wrote the late Archibald MacLeish. Students in this course focus on writing poems by reading, listening to, and analyzing a wide variety of poetry. Each student writes and revises a small book of approximately 12 poems. In a workshop format, students read their work, study poems, critique each other’s work, and commit some poems to memory.

Fiction Workshop

Do you ever have the urge to write great prose and not think about thesis statements and topic sentences? This course examines creative forms of fiction, which may include personal narratives, articles, and editorials. Looking at models of published prose, the class offers writing activities to give new ideas of both form and content. Students work on technical skills that support good writing in a workshop model of sharing pieces for class-wide feedback. A strong commitment to the writing process and a willingness to share weekly pieces with classmates are necessary.

Word and Image

This is an advanced interdisciplinary course for juniors and seniors who are interested in exploring the interrelated worlds of the visual and written arts. Students combine their own words and art to make one-of-a-kind or small-edition books. Writing focuses on the imagery and form of poetry, the narrative qualities of the personal essay, and the development of character in the short story. Authors studied may include Annie Dillard, Anne Sexton, Sandra Cisneros, and a wide variety of poets. Writing includes extensive drafting and revision work. Students are also introduced to the illustrative work of several book artists while learning a variety of book structures. Possible visual art disciplines in which to work are drawing, painting, digital imaging, photography, collage, and printmaking. Students are asked to bring to class a creative spirit and the self-motivation to develop the complex relationship between the visual and written arts in concurrence with each other. This is the equivalent of two courses. Prerequisites: Foundations of Art and one other studio art class. Completion of Writers’ Workshop or Essay Writing is recommended. Open only to juniors and seniors.

Authenticity and Performance in the Digital Age

What does it mean to be authentic? Who is “the real you”? How does an online presence influence one’s “real life” identity? This course examines these questions, considering how truth and performance intertwine in the age of social media and how contemporary literature probes the relationship between authenticity and digital existence. Students read a variety of texts (supplemented with critical and theoretical perspectives), from David Foster Wallace’s short story “Good Old Neon” to Tom McCarthy’s Remainder and Miranda July’s The First Bad Man. The course draws on contemporary films and television that address the issues of authenticity and technology, such as the television series Black Mirror. Students also draw on their own experiences online and work together to create virtual platforms that promote authentic self-presentation.

Modern European Theater

The rules and norms of theater changed profoundly in the early 20th century. This class explores the revolutionary theatrical styles that developed during this turbulent era, as well as the social and political circumstances that drove these changes. Students explore Realism, with its radical focus on the lives and passions of everyday people; Epic Theater, with its emphasis on politics and function rather than emotion and effect; the Theater of Cruelty, which strove to make audiences as uncomfortable as possible; and the Theatre of the Absurd, which found startling ways to stage a world without meaning. The class also explores new ideas in theatrical performance developed during the era, especially Stanislavski’s system and the method acting of Adler, Strasberg, and others. Readings may include Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, Chekhov’s The Seagull, Brecht’s The Good Person of Szechwan, Ionesco’s Rhinoceros, Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author, Beckett’s Endgame, Pinter’s The Birthday Party, and relevant readings in criticism and psychology. The class concludes by exploring diverse contemporary voices in the ever-changing world of European theater.