English IV

Seniors will choose one of two electives offered each semester, each taught by a different teacher. These courses will continue to develop, on a more advanced level, many of the theoretical and aesthetic ideas explored in the previous three years. Student writing, class reading, and discussion are at the center of the courses.

The Art of Losing

It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

–Elizabeth Bishop, “One Art”

How do writers—even masters of the craft—wrestle language into a form that can describe significant personal loss? What tools are at the disposal of a writer who is grieving? This class will examine various texts—personal essays, poems, memoir and autobiography—to explore this question. We’ll read writers who look at death by juxtaposing it against something else: Cheryl Strayed, who pairs the death of her mother with the beginning of her heroin addiction, and James Baldwin, who examines his father’s death alongside the Harlem race riots. We’ll a read a book that approaches death by breaking all the rules, even blurring the lines between fact and fiction: Dave Eggers’ memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, in which Eggers chronicles his experiences raising his 8-year-old brother after the sudden deaths of both his parents. Finally, we’ll see where a writer’s tools seem to fail, where death can only be discussed through fragmentation and the breakdown of form: Joan Didion’s Blue Nights, about the death of the author’s daughter. Throughout the semester, students will work on creative pieces that experiment with juxtaposition, rule-breaking, fragmentation, and other tools that can stretch our own abilities with the written word.




In this senior English seminar we will be looking at books about those who live at the margins of society. Starting with short stories and moving on to novels and plays, we will read works that examine, expose, even celebrate those on the edges: immigrants, dreamers, fanatics, prophets, the oppressed. The primary texts for the course will be The Metamorphosis, by Franz Kafka (the bizarre tale of a man who becomes a cockroach), Wise Blood, by Flannery O’Connor (a Southern Gothic text so strange it boggles the mind), The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz (a wild, exuberant, and sad novel about a self-described “ghetto nerd” from the Dominican Republic), and the play Angels in America, by Tony Kushner (an epic and elegiac “gay fantasia in five acts”). We will be focusing not just on content but also on technique: how do these writers write their stories? How do their choices affect meaning? etc. Students will also be doing a lot of their own writing, both in and out of class. We will have frequent in-class creative and expository exercises as well as longer out-of-class papers that are both creative and analytical.


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