The English curriculum at BB&N is intended to teach students to read with pleasure and insight and to write with clarity and confidence. The department aims for its students to learn, with increasing skill, to recognize the differences between the profound and the superficial, the eloquent and the awkward, the sincere and the glib.The English program reflects a belief in the value of reading widely and deeply in a variety of literary forms, traditional and innovative, and from several periods, ancient and modern. The faculty believes that writing, both expository and creative, improves with practice and constant attention to basic skills. In grades 9 through 12, students are asked to understand, with increasing sophistication, the essential relationship between form and content and to appreciate the power and beauty of language. The study of grammar, punctuation, spelling, syntax and vocabulary is stressed in grades 7 through 10, and reinforced in grades 11 and 12.


English 9

The program in Grade 9 includes three classic works, several poems, and contemporary stories, novels, and plays. Most of the first trimester is devoted to a detailed reading of The Odyssey. In the second and third trimesters, all students readRomeo and Juliet and a major nineteenth century novel, usually either Jane Eyre or Great Expectations. Throughout the year, students write frequently, both in and out of class, on a variety of topics and in both creative and analytical formats. Students also continue their study of vocabulary, spelling, punctuation, syntax, and grammar.

English 10

The literature program in Grade 10 involves the study of several genres. Students read poems, short stories, novels (The Great Gatsby and Their Eyes Were Watching God, for instance), and plays, both classic and modern, as well as some sections of the Bible. Plays include one by Shakespeare (Macbeth) and others of the teacher’s choice, such as Sophocles’ Theban plays and Miller’s Death of a Salesman. A major focus of the writing program is the essay: students continue to practice the skills, introduced in Grade 9, of formulating and developing an expository essay. Class-wide debates provide practice in research as well as valuable experience in collaboration and public speaking. Students also continue the study of vocabulary, usage, and grammar.

English 11 Advanced Placement

All Grade 11 English courses focus on developing analytical thinking, reading, and writing skills to a more sophisticated level. The third trimester’s work includes the writing of an eight- to ten-page profile about a person at work. All juniors prepare for and have the opportunity to take an AP English exam, either Advanced Placement English Language and Composition or Advanced Placement English Literature and Composition.

Grade 11 Choices for Fall 2016-17

African-American Literature: Race and Identity

This course presents an introduction to the development and evolution of African-American life and culture through literature. Students will read works spanning four centuries, focusing on the underlying historical context, cultural values, and modes of expression. Beginning with poetry written during the 1700s and the slave narratives of Douglass and Jacobs, students will examine the primary issues facing African Americans during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. They will address the complex issues and divergent perspectives in major representative novels, such as Chesnutt’sThe House Behind the Cedars, Larsen’s Passing, Walker’s The Color Purple, and Wright’s Native Son. Students will also read selected short stories, essays, and poetry by various authors to deepen their understanding of how African Americans constructed racial and cultural identities. Through reading, writing, and student–centered discussion, we will explore and redefine concepts of freedom, citizenship, class, color, and gender within the black community.


This course considers people who feel they no longer belong to the larger entity—a family, race, nation, culture—that has previously defined them. Feeling like aliens in their own lives, these characters struggle to re-establish stability and identity. They look inward and outward at the same time. As they try to maintain their connections or choose to sever ties with their pasts, they confront questions about what it is to be an individual, to be a member of that larger entity. Main texts will include both classic and contemporary works; possibilities include Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Shakespeare’sHamlet, Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, Otsuka’s When the Emperor Was Divine, Wharton’s Summer, and Petterson’sOut Stealing Horses, and stories by James Baldwin, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Alice Munro, Ernest Hemingway, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and others.

British Literature

For over a thousand years, lovers and rogues, heroes and traitors, serious souls, irreverent fools, royal figures, and common folk have all come to life in the literature of this little corner of Europe, Britain. Discover how hilarious and harrowing the classics can be—and how they continue to shape our understanding of our selves and others. Works may include the first English epic, Beowulf; the witty character sketches in The Canterbury Tales; a play about our most famous tragic hero, Hamlet; a novel depicting the perils that beset well- and ill-behaved women in Pride and Prejudice; the comic play The Importance of Being Earnest; and poems by such writers as Donne, Pope, and Keats and many others. Written assignments primarily address analytical approaches to literature, though students will have opportunities to write creatively as well.

Dynamic Duos

Sometimes an idea, story, or character can only best be known though its opposite, or its double, or its retelling. This course will explore individual works of literature through specific pairings: the racial undercurrents in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn deepen once you’ve read Beloved Hamletbroadens its concerns through its modern retelling inRosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, and Heart of Darkness benefits from a shift in gender, century, and continent in State of Wonder. Smaller pairings of short stories and poems will also appear throughout the year before we turn to the Profile and the AP exam in the spring.

Irish Literature

Ireland is a small nation that has given the world a large number of extraordinary writers, four of them winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature: James Joyce, Sean O’Casey, J.M. Synge, Lady Augusta Gregory, and Oscar Wilde, to name a few. The twentieth century was a time of intense political and literary activity in Ireland as the nation and its writers struggled with issues of independence and oppression, warfare (open and guerrilla), identity (national and personal), and the intersections of myth and history. This course will focus on the novels, tragicomic plays, short stories, speeches and poems of this “Irish Renaissance,” which may include Joyce’s Dublinersand A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World, Friel’s Translations, and a coming-of-age novel by Elizabeth Bowen or Somerville and Ross. We will also read some more recent works, including Seamus Deane’s Reading in the Dark, set during the fraught times in Northern Ireland. Throughout the year we will view some of the contemporary films coming out of Ireland, such as Michael Collins, and discuss some of the island’s rich culture and complex history. Students will write critical essays as well as fiction and personal narratives—all in preparation for a major assignment of the year: the Junior Profile.


When characters in literature and in life experience difficult circumstances, they mask themselves for all sorts of reasons—to disguise, to deceive, to disrupt or revenge; to flirt, to critique, to conform or defend. Whether intentional or not, such masking almost always incurs some consequence to personal identity, some confusion or disfigurement with which the masked character must ultimately reckon. Masks will examine this theme and others as we read closely and write regularly in response to literature spanning four centuries. Along with a selection of poems, personal essays, and short stories, our main texts may include Shakespeare’s Hamlet,Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Dostoevsky’s Notes From Underground, and Kafka’s Metamorphoses. We may also read Conrad's Heart of Darkness, Swift’s A Modest Proposal, Shaffer’s Amadeus, and Guterson’s Snow Falling on Cedars.

Rebel Writers

What does it mean to break with tradition? How can an author question his or her readers’ assumptions about nation, identity, and literature? In this course, we will focus on authors who are now canonical but who in their own times were considered rebels, as well as contemporary authors who are currently challenging the status quo and broadening the literary canon. Readings may include Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, McCullers’ The Ballad of the Sade Café, Pinter’s The Hothouse, Lahiri’s The Namesake, and Spiegelman’s Maus, as well as short stories and poetry by Hawthorne, Hemingway, Gilman Perkins, Dickinson, and Whitman. Throughout the year, students continue to develop their expository and creative writing skills in preparation for the year’s major project, the Junior Profile.

Trapped Together and Alone

What qualities and flaws emerge when people find themselves trapped together in unusual circumstances? Whether by shipwreck, hostage crisis, exile (both self-imposed or externally ordered), a writer’s choice to isolate people can serve as a way to examine the qualities that make us human, for better or worse. Through a variety of genres, students consider what traits surface in extreme conditions. In addition to novels and nonfiction works, students also consider how plays, too, present a particularly effective way of creating a sense of limited options. Texts may include Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians, Shakespeare’s The Tempest or King Lear,Patchett’s Bel Canto, Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Thoreau’s Walden, Krakauer’s Into The Wild, Beckett’sWaiting for Godot.

Travelers and Transients

As Americans, many of us have a simultaneous desire to settle and unsettle, to be rooted and rootless, self-made yet destined for greatness. Roads, tracks, trails, and rivers crisscross the vast expanse of this nation and lure us in many directions—toward adventure, misadventure, and the next potentially great thing. This course explores the importance of movement and exploration in texts and in our own writing and considers not only literal travel but also travel through form, space, time, and the imagination. Sometimes when we roam, we just get lost; sometimes we find things greater than that for which we were looking. Let's see what we uncover in works such as Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Calvino’s Invisible Cities, Ehrlich’s The Solace of Open Spaces, Shakespeare’sHamlet, Smith’s White Teeth, and Krakauer’s Into the Wild(film version).

We're Not in Kansas Anymore

When a tornado transports Dorothy, her house, and Toto to Oz, Dorothy gains an understanding of herself, newfound friends, and the home she left behind. As we explore literature that features characters who leave home, either physically through travel or psychically through a changed perspective, we will reflect upon the tensions between individuals and society, reality and expectations, and allegiance and resistance. We’ll meet outcasts, like Hester Prynne of The Scarlet Letterand Prospero of The Tempest, who must learn to balance their beliefs and desires with society’s expectations and rules. Ifemelu and Obinze of Americanah dream of leaving their native Nigeria to travel to America, only to encounter unexpected obstacles to their perceptions of themselves and their new homes. Lastly, Offred of The Handmaid’s Talereflects upon her role in the totalitarian Republic of Gilead. We will also focus on some works that wrestle with issues of immigration and identity by contemporary authors who may include Kincaid, C. Lee, Lahiri, Orwell, and Hughes. A wide variety of poetry and short stories will accompany the major works.

English 12

Seniors take two English courses. In the first trimester, courses focus on literature, classic and modern. Each senior writes an eight- to ten-page Senior Essay, either an analytical or an emulative piece about one of the works read for his/her fall course. Second-trimester courses allow for more in-depth study of a particular topic.

Grade 12 Choices for Fall 2016-17

Doppelgangers and Distorted Mirrors

What happens when a character meets his creepy double? It is not unusual for an author to create a character to serve as a foil for the protagonist to emphasize, through contrast, traits that reveal distinctive qualities of the main character. In the books we read for this course, characters meet and confront their distorted selves, and we will explore the consequences of these encounters. Texts may include the following: selections from The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe, Song of Solomon by Morrison, and Richard III by Shakespeare. Writing will include analytical essays, emulative pieces, and a personal essay. We will also view films that complement the themes addressed in the texts.
Summer reading book: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louise Stevenson

Fiction Writing

In this workshop class students read short works of fiction by twentieth century and contemporary writers for inspiration and as models of the craft. Most of this writing-intensive class, though, will be spent producing and discussing student writing. Students are responsible for responding to each other’s work in workshop format and in brief blog posts. In looking at the elements of fiction writing and learning how to construct plot, develop character, and craft effective sentences, students will also hone their analytical reading skills and their ability to discuss fiction in illuminating ways.
Summer reading books: Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott and selected short stories.

Law, Literature, and Social Justice

This course will explore the intersection between literary and legal studies with a particular focus on social justice and to what degree the legal system achieves it. Through literature (and perhaps a film or two), we will examine the role of law in the structure of institutions, relationships, and political/personal power. We will consider the history of our legal system and how it has impacted and served various groups in different ways. Texts may include Njal’s Saga (author unknown), Just Mercy by Stevenson, Nuts by Topor, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Kesey, and The Shawshank Redemption by King (film version).
Summer Reading book: The Trial by Franz Kafka

Moby-Dick: A Whale of a Work

“Call me Ishmael.” With this simple sentence, Herman Melville begins one of the greatest American novels. Through a careful reading of this masterpiece and its many interpretations, we will dabble in the nautical, historical, scientific, philosophical and Biblical elements Melville so loves. After learning the actual story of a sperm whale ramming and sinking the Essexin 1820, we will spend the bulk of the term reading about a mad captain, his elusive prey, a tattooed harpooneer, and a young crewman in this literary leviathan.
Summer reading books: In the Heart of the Sea by Nathanial Philbrick and Bartleby, the Scrivener by Herman Melville

Pilgrim Souls: Journeys of Self-Discovery

Literary characters often undertake literal and metaphorical journeys to learn about themselves. Their discoveries may change their lives . . . or frighten them into denial. The "pilgrim souls" of our readings may include a nihilistic political lackey, a pair of Upper East Side art dealers, a mysterious group of English students, and a young editor confronting her mental illness. Probable readings include several novels: Warren’s All the King's Men, Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day, and Plath’sThe Bell Jar; as well as several plays, especially Guare’s Six Degrees of Separation, Edson’s Wit, and Stoppard’s Arcadia.
Summer reading book: A Month in the Country by James Lloyd Carr

Redeeming the Past

Stories have the power to heal wounds and transform individual, communal, and national identity. In this course, students will explore the restorative power of stories by reading literature in which characters, as well as authors, strive to make sense of war, family dysfunction, or personal rejection to move forward with their lives. Our ultimate concern will be to consider how language helps define, resolve, and redeem human experience. Our readings may include Morrison’s Song of Solomon, Ondaatje’s The English Patient, and O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, along with various short stories and poems. Students will continue to hone their writing skills through expository, personal, and creative writing.
Summer reading book: The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls


Ben Jonson famously describes Shakespeare as a man “not of an age, but for all time”—a monumental claim. Jonson may have thought he was exaggerating, but his claim is borne out in the near-worldwide admiration of Shakespeare’s plays and poems. Shakespeare’s name has become the byword of educated culture, allusion to his works proof positive of a learned mind. Our work will be to step closer to this enduring literature and take note of the power in Shakespeare’s verse. We will immerse ourselves in a number of great works, which may include texts such as the dark and bleak tragedies King Lear and Othello, the startling and delightful comedy Twelfth Night, the “problem” play Measure for Measure, and many of his sonnets. We will also examine how these plays are represented in modern culture and media, with some viewings of films—and perhaps a live performance.
Summer reading book: The Winter’s Tale (Pelican edition)

Sibling Bonds and Rivalries

“Blood is thicker than water.” “Am I my brother’s keeper?” “Mom always liked you best.” From Cain and Abel to Cinderella and her stepsisters to the Simpsons’ children, the interactions of brothers and sisters have been a recurrent theme of storytellers. Through the readings in this course we will explore the intensities of sibling relationships, such as the demands of family honor in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’sChronicle of a Death Foretold and the fierce rivalries in The Piano Lesson by Wilson and in works by Eudora Welty, Robert Louis Stevenson, and William Shakespeare. Other readings may include works by Christina Rossetti, Wislawa Szymborska, Eugene O’Neill, Brian Friel, Philip Roth, Ian McEwan, Edgar Allan Poe, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and Carson McCullers. Students will write expository and personal essays as well as fiction and view some contemporary films from the United States and abroad.
Summer reading book: Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

Speechwriting and Public Speaking
[This is a two trimester course and meets in both the fall and winter trimesters.]

In this course students will develop their speechwriting and public speaking skills by hearing, reading, evaluating, and imitating great orators. A writing and presenting workshop, this two-trimester elective requires participants to refine what they say as well as how they say it through brainstorming, drafting, drilling, and performing a variety of their own speeches. Prioritized in the course design are regular oral communication practice and peer feedback sessions, so students can expect to become adept at scrutinizing each other’s style and substance. Texts will include excerpts from Peggy Noonan’s On Speaking Well, Scott Berkun’s Confessions of a Public Speaker, Richard Dowis’ The Lost Art of the Great Speech, and In Our Own Words: Extraordinary Speeches of the American Century, among other readings and recordings. Successful completion of the course means writing and formally presenting several speeches, all of which will be recorded and reviewable online and some of which may gain an all-school audience. Students hoping to enroll in this course must be willing to commit to both trimesters. Summer reading book: The Moth, edited by Catherine Burns

The Villain

In film, literature, and real life (or, at least, reality TV), villains enthrall us. Though their actions may be despicable, we find their audacity strangely thrilling, and we wait with bated breath as they head to their demise. As we read about villains who manipulate, betray, and commit violence, as well as societies that imprison and dehumanize their subjects, we will reflect on our own perceptions and definitions of morality. We will also consider the potential for villains to function as foils to the protagonists. Texts may include A Clockwork Orange,Othello, Frankenstein, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and a selection of short stories.
Summer reading book: No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy

Grade 12 Choices for Winter 2016-17

All the World’s a Screen

This course surveys the golden age of Hollywood, from the end of the silent film era to the fall of the big studio system a half-century later. Weekly screenings cover each decade from the ’20s to the ’60s as well as some of the major cinematic genres: comedy, the musical, the western, melodrama, etc. In addition the course introduces students to some major approaches to film theory and to the basic tools of film analysis. We will also read one or two novels about Hollywood as well as a selection of poems and short stories about film. Assignments consist of weekly screenings and readings, as well as several short papers and a long paper or test. Note: Required screenings occur at BB&N on Thursday evenings at 7:00 p.m. in place of Tuesday’s class.

Beyond the Hookup

We will read a few famous love stories—both classic and contemporary—whose relationships have become famous for romance, tempestuousness, and outcomes. We examine how the lovers discover epic passions, break boundaries, cause earthquakes in families or societies, and thus end up legends. Readings may include novels, short stories, and plays by Annie Proulx, Tennessee Williams, Ian McEwan, William Shakespeare, Jiang Fang, D. H. Lawrence, Emily Bronte, Leanne Shapton, Yasunari Kawabata, Marina Keegan, Tom Stoppard, and Philip Roth.

Four Centuries of Wit

Like a quick wit? Every century offers works of literature that wield wit wondrously well—but what does that mean for us as twenty-first century readers? Some works seem to speak only to their era, some works appeal even now. We’ll ask why this dichotomy exists and then go about the joyful task of looking for answers. We take as our core wits John Donne, Alexander Pope, and Jane Austen, from the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries respectively— each author famous for wit and satire. In reading their challenging and sophisticated work, we will come to understand how authors construct wit and to see the socio-historical contexts in which their wit thrived. This course will also explore how twentieth-century wit embodies a bleakness suitable to its own historical context, and finally we will consider the very present now.

Poetry Writing

This poetry workshop will require the original composition of a significant body of work by each student. Each week we will focus on a different form or element of poetry. We will likely compose sonnets, performance poems, flash fiction, ars poeticas, and narrative poems. Each week we will read samples of the types of poems we’re writing, short critical pieces about form and composition, and a packet of our poetry that we will workshop together in class. Works may include weekly poetry and criticism packets, Blood Dazzler by Patricia Smith, What The Living Do by Marie Howe, Life on Mars by Tracy K. Smith, and The Making of a Poem by Mark Strand and Eavan Boland.

Prize-Winning Books

Immerse yourself in an inspiring pool of major award-winning texts. These works are recognized for their innovation and contribution to the world of literature. We may read National Book Award authors such as Don DeLillo (White Noise) and Colum McCann (Let the Great World Spin), and Nobel laureates such as playwright Harold Pinter, short- story writer Alice Munro, and poets Seamus Heaney and Wislawa Symborska. As we read, we will explore what makes a text truly great and discuss how its impact on the reading audience has earned it a place in literary history. Get to know the literature that has earned widespread attention and respected accolades, and enter the discussions of readers everywhere.

The Short Story

At its most basic definition, a short story is a prose piece that can be read in one sitting. Yet, within that span, each tale strives to find unity, totality, truth, or at the very least a single effect. Edgar Allan Poe knew how these limitations can daunt an author: “If his very initial sentence tend not to the outbringing of this effect, then he has failed in his first step.” Similarly, John Cheever insists, “With a short story, you have to be in there on every word; every verb has to be lambent and strong. It’s a fairly exhausting task.” We will see how a range of contemporary writers takes on this task. After reading a work such as Let the Great World Spin or Olive Kitteridge that weaves separate stories into a larger novel, we will focus on the individual pieces selected for the 2015 and 2016 editions of The Best American Short Stories.

Speechwriting and Public Speaking
[This is a two trimester course and meets in both the fall and winter trimesters.]

In this course students will develop their speechwriting and public speaking skills by hearing, reading, evaluating, and imitating great orators. A writing and presenting workshop, this elective requires participants to refine what they say as well as how they say it through brainstorming, drafting, drilling, and performing a variety of their own speeches. Prioritized in the course design are regular oral communication practice and peer feedback sessions, so students can expect to become adept at scrutinizing each other’s style and substance. Texts will include excerpts from Peggy Noonan’s On Speaking Well, Scott Berkun’s Confessions of a Public Speaker, Richard Dowis’ The Lost Art of the Great Speech, and In Our Own Words: Extraordinary Speeches of the American Century, among other readings and recordings. Successful completion of the course means writing and formally presenting several speeches, all of which will be recorded and reviewable online and some of which may gain an all-school audience. Students hoping to enroll in this course must be willing to commit to both trimesters.

Tales of Survival

Every day humans face obstacles to success, happiness, and sometimes even survival. Sometimes these challenges—a low grade on a test, a fight with a friend—are small; other times these moments define who we are. In this class, we will explore how young protagonists navigate trauma and emerge changed yet intact. Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot Seeshows us Werner, the orphan turned Nazi soldier, and Marie-Laure, the blind French girl, who face innumerable obstacles to their pursuit of fulfilling lives during the 1930s and ’40s in Germany and France. Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close sends us on a journey alongside Oskar Schell as he strives to make sense of his father’s death on 9/11. Exploring these characters’ experiences, we will consider how facing challenges and overcoming them defines us as humans.

To Hell and Back

This course focuses on Dante’s Inferno, the first and probably most widely read of The Divine Comedy’s three volumes. Full of colorful characters, imaginatively conceived beasts, and grotesque punishments, this epic poem depicts man's physical and spiritual journey through darkness toward the light. We will also examine some paintings and etchings inspired by the Inferno, one of the texts that artists have most frequently depicted throughout the ages. After a quick glance at Dante’sPurgatorio and Paradiso, we will look at some modern poems his work inspired, including T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” before moving on to another view of Hell in Jean Paul Sartre’s existential play No Exit. Students’ work will include some short critical papers and the creation of their very own three circles of Hell, detailed in a written narrative and in a piece of artwork.

Writing Life Stories

In this course, a writing workshop, students draw from their own experience to craft non-fiction stories. Each week, students will read short personal narratives that will serve as a model, both in terms of style and content, for their weekly writing assignment. Their own stories will focus on experiences that they find resonant and significant. In addition to the shorter readings, students will read two full-length memoirs, one chosen from a list of suggested texts and one of the student’s own choosing. Students will work from memoir prompts and experiment with some poetry exercises as a way of finding their topics. They will put their writing through the drafting, revision, and proofreading process to work on producing pieces that are clear, well written, and compelling. The authors we will use as models include E.B. White, Joan Didion, Tim O’Brien, Alice Walker, Edward Abbey, Sarah Vowell, David Sedaris, and Leslie Jamison.

Upper School Calendar

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