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
- English 10
- English 11 (Advanced Placement)
- Grade 11 Choices for Fall 2020-2021
- English 12
- Grade 12 Choices for Fall 2020-21
- Grade 12 Choices for Winter 2020-21
The program in Grade 9 includes three major works, as well as other novels, poetry, short stories, and plays. Most of the first trimester is devoted to a detailed reading of The Odyssey. In the second and third trimesters, all students read Romeo and Juliet and a contemporary novel, The Leavers. 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.
The literature program in Grade 10 includes works representing diverse voices and cultures. Students read poems, short stories, some excerpts from the Bible, novels (The Great Gatsby and We Need New Names, for instance), and plays, (Shakespeare’s Macbeth and perhaps Sophocles’ Theban plays or Fugard’s “Master Harold”… and the boys). A major focus of the writing curriculum is the essay: students continue to practice the skills, introduced in Grade 9, of crafting an analytical argument. 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.
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 an interesting person at work. All juniors prepare for and have the opportunity to take an Advanced Placement (AP) English exam, either AP English Language and Composition or AP English Literature and Composition.
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 narrative of Douglass, 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’s The House Behind the Cedars, Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, Wright’s Native Son, and Ellison's Invisible Man. 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.
Students who enroll in the African American Literature: Race and Identity course simultaneously enroll in the United States History: African American History course offered through the History and Social Sciences Department. Participation in this African American Studies Program is noted on a student’s transcript.
Sometimes people feel like aliens in their own lives. Consider, for example, ordinary Japanese Americans suddenly imprisoned during WWII, some young adults who discover the dizzying truth of their childhood identities, a young man distressed by the death of his father and remarriage of his mother. Alienated by choice or not, these individuals experience a disconnection from the larger entity—a family, nation, culture—they once belonged to. As they try to restore their connections or choose to sever ties with their pasts, they confront what it is to be an individual, to be a member of that larger entity. We will also consider some related real-life issues, such as immigration, in our world today. Main texts will include both classic and contemporary works; possibilities include Trevor Noah's memoir Born a Crime, Otsuka’s When the Emperor Was Divine, Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, as well as stories and poems by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Toni Cade Bambara, Alice Munro, Ernest Hemingway, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Robert Frost, Gwendolyn Brooks, and others.
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 ourselves 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 writers such as Donne, Milton, Pope, Keats, and many others. Written assignments primarily address analytical approaches to literature, though students will have opportunities to write creatively as well.
Sometimes an idea, story, or character can only best be known through 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; Hamlet broadens its concerns through its modern retelling in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, and Heart of Darkness benefits from a shift in gender, century, and continent in State of Wonder. Smaller pairings of shorts stories and poems will also appear throughout the year before we turn to the Junior Profile and the Advanced Placement exam in the spring.
Gender and Sexuality in American Literature
To what extent are our lives and sense of self rooted in American notions of gender and sexuality? How do these notions set expectations, create limitations, and secure privileges in our lives? In our study of literature set in America, we will explore how and when male and female voices are amplified, normalized, shamed, or silenced. We will also study the intersection of gender, sexuality, and other aspects of individual identity to develop a fuller and more complex understanding of life in America. Readings may include Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, Kushner’s Angels in America, Kingston’s The Woman Warrior, and Kaufman’s The Laramie Project. We will also read from a selection of short stories, poetry, memoirs, articles, and essays. Throughout the year, the students will continue to develop their expository and creative writing skills in preparation for the year’s major project, the Junior Profile.
Students who enroll in the Gender and Sexuality in American Literature course simultaneously enroll in the United States History: Gender and Sexuality Studies course offered through the History and Social Sciences Department. Participation in this Gender and Sexuality Studies Program is noted on a student’s transcript.
Ireland is a small nation that has given the world a large number of extraordinary writers—James Joyce, Sean O’Casey, J.M. Synge, Lady Augusta Gregory, and Oscar Wilde, to name a few—four of them winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature. 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 Dubliners and 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 may 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 contemporary films coming out of Ireland 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.
A magical island with spirits, monsters, and a wizard-king. An old house haunted by restless, spiteful ghosts. A man who discovers that his dreams can alter reality. Another who wakes to find he has transformed into a large insect. For centuries, writers have incorporated elements of fantasy, magic, and unreality into their narratives to introduce suspense and mystery—but also to explore the unseen forces of their worlds and of the human mind. In this class, we will explore a diverse selection of literature that mixes realism with magic, the everyday with the fantastical. In so doing, we might just better understand ourselves and the worlds we inhabit. Main texts for the course will likely include Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Morrison’s Beloved, the Olde English epic Beowulf, and LeGuin’s The Lathe of Heaven. In addition, we will read a variety of short stories and poems from writers such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, John Cheever, and Ursula K. LeGuin.
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 will include Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Dostoevsky’s Notes From Underground, and Swift’s A Modest Proposal. We may also read Backman’s Beartown.
Trapped Together and Alone
What qualities and flaws emerge when people find themselves trapped together in unusual circumstances? Whether through shifting family dynamics, a hostage crisis, exile (both self-imposed or externally ordered), a writer’s choice to isolate characters 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 Adichie’s Americanah, Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Patchett’s Bel Canto, Mitchell’s Black Swan Green, excerpts from Thoreau’s Walden, Krakauer’s Into The Wild, and Beckett’s Waiting for Godot.
Travelers and Transients
Throughout the brief history of the United States, Americans seem to have had a simultaneous desire to settle and unsettle, to be rooted and rootless, to champion equality and unbridled competition, to consider themselves self-made and 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, safety, danger, and the next potentially great opportunity. This course explores the importance of movement and motivations for moving in texts, in our own writing, and in the lives of characters and our own lives. We will consider not only literal travel but also travel through form, space, time, status, and the imagination. Sometimes when we roam, we just get lost or destroyed; sometimes we find things greater than that for which we were looking. Let’s see what paths we uncover in works such as James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, Frederick Douglass’s Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Tracy K. Smith’s Wade in the Water, Calvino’s Invisible Cities, Gretel Ehrlich’s The Solace of Open Spaces, and Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried.
Seniors take two trimester-long English courses, offering the opportunity to read classic and modern literature, to work on a particular form of writing, or to focus more narrowly on a text. All seniors write an eight-page Senior Essay, either an analytical or an emulative piece about one of the works read for their fall courses.
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 texts 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, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Stevenson, and Richard III by Shakespeare. Writing will include analytical essays, emulative pieces, and a personal essay.
Summer reading: Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan
In this workshop course, students read one novel—Louise Erdrich's Tracks—and several short works of fiction by twentieth- and twenty-first-century writers for inspiration and as models of the craft. Most of this writing-intensive course, 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 online posts. In studying 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 and enjoyable ways.
Summer reading: 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 rights previous wrongs. 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), The Trial by Franz Kafka, Nuts by Topor, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Kesey, and The Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King (film version).
Summer reading: Just Mercy by Brian Stevenson
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 Essex in 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: In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick and “Bartleby, the Scrivener” by Herman Melville
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 established authors 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 major works by Flannery O’Connor, Sinclair Lewis, Assata Shakur, and John Steinbeck, as well as shorter works by James Baldwin, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Ernest Hemingway, Kate Chopin, Emily Dickinson, and Walt Whitman.
Summer reading: It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis
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 The Song of Solomon, McEwan’s Atonement, Ondaatje’s The English Patient, and Dürrenmatt’s The Visit, along with various short stories and poems. Students will continue to hone their writing skills through expository, personal, and creative writing.
Summer reading: The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende
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: 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 Ian McEwan’s Atonement, the fierce rivalries in The Piano Lesson by August Wilson, and the life-saving bonds in Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones. Other main texts may include Shakespeare’s King Lear, Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, or Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things, in addition to a range of short stories and poems related to our theme. 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
True Stories and the Personal Essay
Truth can be stranger and more fascinating than fiction. In this course students will read short personal narratives, memoir excerpts, and expository essays to experience how literary voices that speak individual truths and reflect openly on the world can be as compelling as fiction’s best-loved narrators. Students will also cultivate their own voices, sometimes playfully imitating the writers we read and other times creating original pieces about the people, places, and experiences significant to them. Together we will discuss how to recognize good material, manage memory, and dig down for truths that are unaffected and satisfying. In weekly writing workshops during the long block, the class will review each other’s work with an eye toward finishing the course with individual writing portfolios worthy of submission to contests. Readings will include essays from Joan Didion, Annie Dillard, Langston Hughes, and George Orwell, as well as excerpts from Richard Rodriguez’s Hunger of Memory; Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love; Alice Sebold’s Lucky; David Sedaris’ When You Are Engulfed in Flames; Anne Lamott’s Grace (Eventually), and Bryan Stevenson's Just Mercy.
Summer reading: The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
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 inevitably move toward 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 Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, Shakespeare’s Othello, Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and a selection of short stories.
Summer reading: No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
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.
Latin American Literature
Over the past century, our neighbors to the south in Latin America have produced some of the boldest, most inventive fiction in the world. From the wondrous magical realism of Gabriel García Márquez, Isabel Allende, and others, to the stylistic innovations of Jorge Luis Borges and Julio Cortázar, Latin American writers have been pushing the boundaries of what novels, short stories, and poems can be. In this course, we will read a selection of works in translation from such countries as Colombia, Chile, Argentina, and Mexico. As we read, we will also investigate social and cultural trends that influenced these writers and their work. Main texts for the course will likely include García Márquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Manuel Puig’s Kiss of the Spider Woman, Ariel Dorman’s Death and the Maiden, and Juan Rulfo’s Pedro Páramo, with short stories and poetry by Jorge Luis Borges, Rosario Castellanos, Gabriela Mistral, Pablo Neruda, and others.
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; flash fiction; ars poeticas; sestinas, ghazals, or villanelles; and poems based on our dreams. 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 own poetry that we will workshop together in class. We will read works such as weekly poetry and criticism packets, Blood Dazzler by Patricia Smith, Night Sky With Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong, Citizen by Claudia Rankine, and The Essential Poet’s Glossary by Edward Hirsch.
Immerse yourself in an inspiring pool of literature by major award-winning authors. These texts are recognized for their innovation and contribution to the world of literature. We may read works by National Book Award winners, such as Colum McCann, author of Let the Great World Spin, and Maxine Hong Kingston, author of The Woman Warrior, or by Man Booker Prize winners, such as Margaret Atwood, author of The Testaments, or Nobel laureates, such as playwright Harold Pinter, short-story writer Alice Munro, and poet Wisława Szymborska. 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 gained 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 through the individual pieces selected for the 2019 and 2020 editions of The Best American Short Stories.
In this course students will develop their public speaking skills by studying and seeking to become great storytellers. Finding meaningful moments in daily life and crafting them into rewarding shared experience will be the main business, with writing as an important tool on the way to standing and delivering in an authentic, text-free fashion. By brainstorming, drafting, delivering, and revisiting a variety of personal stories, students will practice generating and effectively communicating something of value—both for themselves and their audiences. Regular opportunities for delivery, both extemporaneous and prepared, as well as regular peer feedback on both substance and style will be a priority. Core material will include The Moth podcast and anthologies, Matthew Dicks’ Storyworthy: Engage, Teach, Persuade, and Change Your Life through the Power of Storytelling, Peggy Noonan’s On Speaking Well, Scott Berkun’s Confessions of a Public Speaker, and a variety of TED talks. Graduates of the course will have formally presented several personal stories around campus, been invited to attend at least one of a dozen story slams in the Boston area, and participated in a class storytelling event open to the school community.
Tales of Survival
Every day humans face obstacles to success, happiness, and sometimes even survival. These challenges—a fight with a friend, a low grade on a test—may be 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. Potential texts include Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, whose Oskar Schell tries to make sense of his father’s death on 9/11, and The Handmaid’s Tale, whose Offred strives to maintain her identity after the loss of her culture, family, and freedom. 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 art inspired by the Inferno, one of the texts that artists have most frequently depicted throughout the ages. After a quick glance at Dante’s Purgatorio 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 a couple of 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 nonfiction stories. Students will read short personal narratives that will serve as models, both in terms of style and content, for their weekly writing assignments. 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, Amy Tan, Edward Abbey, Sarah Vowell, David Sedaris, and Leslie Jamison.