In the Nichols English Department we balance tradition and innovation through our approaches to curriculum and skills. We continue to embrace a comprehensive chronological survey of ancient, British and American texts because we believe students need a solid foundation from which to make leaps of understanding. We encourage students to approach these foundational texts with the contemporary critical perspectives of race, gender, power and class. We also love poetry for what it can teach us about language and ambiguity. Through student centered discussion we look to develop a sense of community and shared responsibility for the knowledge in the classroom. Oh, and our students write a lot. Just ask them!

The Nichols English program seeks to develop in our students the related skills of reading, thinking, speaking, and writing. Students achieve these goals through the study of high quality literature at all grade levels in the Upper School. The English faculty expects and encourages students to read with close attention; to participate in Socratic-style class discussions; to become aware of the linguistic nuances of the texts they read; and to incorporate the fruits of their reading, thinking, and speaking into well-crafted essays. The English program serves the purposes and objectives of Nichols School in several ways:
  • The close, careful reading of literary texts is a skill transferable to texts in other academic disciplines.
  • The ability to write clear and concise prose is equally valuable in other disciplines and in later life.
  • Articulating ideas in the give-and-take of class discussion helps to build the student's confidence in his or her own ideas and values.
  • Exposure to the ethical and moral issues found in great literature intensifies a student's awareness of these issues in his or her own life and in the wider world.
  • An aesthetic appreciation of the beauties of the English language -especially in poetry -makes our various Arts offerings more attractive to students.
  • The pleasures of close and attentive reading require patience and a willingness to reflect and contemplate. We all require a "broad margin" to our lives and occasional havens of peace.

Grade 9

  • Foundations of Literature: Foundations is an introductory course in composition and world literature. The program in writing provides a review of paragraph structure and introduces short expository or analytical essays. In literature, readings in poetry and short fiction build critical attitudes and develop awareness of narrative points of view, tone, imagery, symbolism, and irony. Works studied include The Odyssey, The old Testament, and Julius Caesar.

Grade 10

  • Literature of the English Language I: This course focuses on the development of the literary tradition in the English language from the late medieval period to the 21st century. Extensive emphasis is placed on lyric poetry and drama; the second semester covers the emergence of prose fiction in both the novel and short forms. Students receive further instruction and practice in critical writing and continue to develop verbal and analytical skills. Works studied include Hamlet, the poetry of Donne, Milton, and Wadsworth, the 19th century novel, and 20th century writers of Britain and the Commonwealth.

Grade 11

  • Literature of the English Language II or AP English Literature and Composition: Although the course reviews usage, mechanics, sentence structure, and organization, the most significant composition work takes place individually, as students revise and edit their own work through teacher's comments on papers or after individual conferences. Literature of the English Language II traces American literature from colonial times to the present day. Works studied include Hawthorne, Huckleberry Finn, The Great Gatsby, the poetry of Whitman, Dickinson, and Frost, and Invisible Man. The Junior Poetry Paper must be completed in order to pass this course. If the student is taking AP English Literature and Composition, the AP exam is a requirement of the course.

Grade 12

  • English VI or Advanced English VI: This course is the culmination of a student's progress in critical reading and in the development of a mature writing style. Students choose two, one-semester electives designed to delve deeply into a particular theme, author, or genre. All of the courses demand extensive reading, discussion, and writing. Students enrolled under the advanced designation complete extra work.

Senior Electives

Fall Semester

  • Introduction to Shakespeare: This course is not simply about reading Shakespeare's plays as literature. Instead, the course serves as a well-rounded introduction to the study of Shakespeare. We explore the history of Shakespeare's texts since the seventeenth century. We talk about the history of Shakespearean stage practice including current trends. We study the history of Shakespeare criticism. We read Shakespeare's plays as texts for performance, and we talk about how his language directs that performance. By the time you finish this course, you should have a fairly comprehensive awareness of the current state of Shakespeare studies in the early twenty-first century.
  • Southern Literature: This course presents a survey of the development of the literature of the American South. It examines the works and influences of authors spanning nearly four centuries, and their place in the pantheon of American and world literature. We read about the prose, drama, and poetry of authors such as William Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor, Eudora Welty, James Dickey, John Crowe Ransom, Kate Chopin, Katherine Anne Porter, Richard Wright, Tennessee Williams, Joel Chandler Harris, Cormac McCarthy, and A.R. Ammons. We look at the essays of notables such as H.L. Mencken, John Barth, Wendell Berry, Frederick Douglas, Alan Tate, and John Adams.
  • Irish Literature: This course is one of discovery and exploration of the rich and multi-textured literature of Ireland. Because the culture and history of Ireland is inextricable from the literature, the course necessarily introduces various faces of Irish life, past and present. The course cannot be an exhaustive study of Irish literature and history; it is an introduction. Most of the course is centered on contemporary Irish literature. As with all "introductions" to a National Literature, we attempt to diminish the myths and stereotypes of the Irish and Ireland to reveal its complex troubled history and dynamic culture.
  • Creative Non-Fiction: Creative non-fiction is synonymous with memoir or autobiography. The conversation, however, has become one not necessarily about who a person is and what his or her experiences are, but how he or she tells her story. And, inevitably, it often ends with a reader wondering how true is this? We begin with Stephen King's On Writing before moving into Annie Dillard's An American Childhood, Gretel Erlich's The Solace of Open Spaces, and Barry Lopez's Arctic Dreams. Essays also come from a collection of creative nonfiction essays titled In Fact (edited by Lee Gutkind). Students both read and write a great deal of creative nonfiction and must be open to whole class essay workshops. Each student also presents a creative non-fiction essay to the class.
  • Creative Writing/Poetry: This course operates in a studio format, with each student presenting work to the class, receiving feedback from peers and the teacher, and revising thoroughly on a weekly basis. The end product for each writer yields a collection or portfolio of twenty to thirty poems. There are no expository papers, but energetic participation in class discussion (based on nightly readings from the anthology and other works) is a must-approximately 35% of the overall grade is based on this and on constructive contributions to the workshop critiques. No previous experience in creative writing is presumed. Text: The Postmoderns: The New American Poetry (Allen and Butterick, eds.)
  • Salinger and Kerouac: The autobiographical fiction of Jack Kerouac and J.D. Salinger helped define a certain attitude of modern literature. The noted literary historian Daniel S. Burt suggests that "no other American novel written during the second half of the 20th century, with the possible exception of J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, is so heavily freighted with a cult or cultural significance as Jack Kerouac's revered, reviled, and all too often misunderstood On the Road." We examine these two writers from the perspective of their lesser known - but equally impressive - works. Texts include Salinger's Franny and Zooey, Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters, and Seymour, An Introduction, and Kerouac's The Dharma Bums and Big Sur.
  • Criticism I: Seniors in Criticism I learn a critical vocabulary in order to understand differing critical approaches in writing about film. Studnets are expected to write informal response papers demonstrating their understanding of the films we watch and the essays we read, as well as a midterm paper of at least four pages and a final paper of at least five pages. Seniors in the arts sequence who have taken the Filmmaking and Video Production course during their junior year are enrolled in Advanced Filmmaking and Video Production. These students are required to take the English elective Criticism I. Others who sign up are admitted according to available space. Course text: Ebert, Roger. The Great Movies [Reprint Edition, paperback]. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2003.

Spring Semester

  • African-American Literature: In African-American Literature, we survey the major authors and movements in the field. We read slave narratives (for example, Douglass), post-Reconstruction attempts to define African-Americans' place in American culture (Washington, Du Bois, Johnson), works from the Harlem Renaissance (Hurston, Hughes), and Modern and contemporary works (Wright, Ellison, Walker, Dove, Moseley). There are lots of representative works to cover and several more obscure works to discover.
  • Criminal Minds: Literature of Crime: Detective novels and true crime accounts share some common elements, and the roots of today's true crime press can be seen clearly in detective stories from the last century to the present. From stories that include endless realistic detail to those that take place in homes inhabited by people much like the readers and their neighbors; from stories written from the perspective of the detective to those that probe the psychological aspects of the criminal's mind, the way to the present true crime press was being paved. This course examines the genre of literature of the criminal mind as seen through the eyes of journalists, biographers, and psychiatrists. We examine fiction and non-fiction works by an extensive list of authors including Jorge Luis Borge, James Ellroy, Edgar Allen Poe, Truman Capote, Dashiel Hammett, James M. McCain, Ann Rule, Lonnie Athens, Richard Rhodes and others.
  • Creative Writing: Contemporary Short Fiction: This is a course aimed at promoting the enjoyment and appreciation of contemporary short fiction. Students are expected to make informed literary responses to the readings - a skill central to every course in the English Department - and to try their hands at the craft of writing the short story. This is not going to be a survey course, but instead concentrates on the works of some of the best known, and some lesser-known, writers working in the English language today. Though most of the artists are not those recognized as part of the more traditional academic canon, they invite rich academic study. The student understands how individual stories work, and how authors use the formal resources of narrative. The second aim of the course is to incite and nourish literary enthusiasms beyond the course's scope. The student also develops the ability to analyze texts within their social, political and cultural context. We also look at a few writers who are quite dead physically, but very much alive artisically.
  • War Literature: We begin by reading The Essential Iliad compiled and translated by Stanley Lombardo. Wilfred Owen's and Sigfreid Sassoon's poetry from WWI serve as comparison pieces to Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five, and even more contemporary writers. Students read Brian Turner's poetry, Kevin Powers's The Yellow Birds, Ben Fountain's Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, and Phil Klay's collection of short stories, Redeployment. We also spend time going to the VA Adult Day Health Care facility.
  • Changelings: Literature of the Inuit and the Norse: The encounter between Native North American populations and Norse settlers around 1000 CE is the first attested meeting between peoples of the Old and New Worlds. This course examines the literatures and mythologies of these two peoples, both discretely and with regard to their impact on each other. Special attention is paid to the ways in which we construct such terms as "myth," "legend," and "history." Major Texts: William T. Vollman, The Ice Shirt, Mitiarjuk Npaaluk, Sanaaq: Tete-Michel Kpomassie, An African in Greenland; Paul Muldoon, Quoof; The Elder Edda; Snorri Sturlusson (and others), Selections from the Icelandic Sagas; Henry Rink, ed., Tales and Traditions of the Eskimo.
  • The Writing of John McPhee: Since 1963, John McPhee has writeen more htan one hundred pieces for The New Yorker. He is described as "one of the most prolific non-fiction writers of our time. He's written about the famous (for instance, the young Bill Bradley in A Sense of Where You Are) and famously about pursuits of the common man." McPhee currently serves as the Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University, where has taught since 1974. This course explores "the most versatile journalist in America" and his best works of creative non-fiction.
    Readings: The John McPhee Reader, The Second John McPhee Reader
  • Moby-Dick: There are countless books giving advice about how to write a novel. Moby-Dick reads as if Herman Melville read them all and rejected their advice point-by-point. Melville writes in prose, for example, and yet he reserves the right to break into stage direction for several chapters. There is less of a narrative arc than a narrative labyrinth. All at once romantic and realist, pragmatic and idealist, direct and periphrastic, Moby-Dick may be the greatest of all American novels - and yet it is our anti-novel. Diligent reading and an open mind are the keys to plumbing the vast depths of this whale of a book. All students submit a 750-1000-word essay dealing with material up to and including "The Town Ho's Story" (chapter 54). A final paper of 1,000-1,250 words is due at the end of the semester on material after chapter 54. Students taking the course for advanced credit must complete additional critical reading and give an in-class presentation of approximately 15 minutes on a subject to be determined in consultation with the teacher. Required text: Herman Melville, Herman. Moby-Dick or, The Whale. New York: Penguin Books, 1988 [1851].


Dr. Dan Collins

Titles: US English

Larry Desautels

Titles: US English

Laura Errickson

Titles: US English

Sarah Jacobson

Titles: Upper School English Teacher, Upper School History Teacher

George Kloepfer

Titles: MS English

Julia Marthia

Titles: MS Learning Specialist

Dr. Laurie Ousley

Titles: US English

Mr. Roddy Potter III

Class of '82
Titles: US English

Charles Ptak

Titles: VI Form Dean

Ms. Deborah Regan Howe

Titles: MS English

Dr. Andrew Sutherland

Titles: US English