Skip to contentSkip to site navigation

II. Intermediate Courses and Intensives

Course descriptions from the English Department to supplement the information in the college catalogue.


Introductory Creative Writing

Study and practice of various forms of prose and poetry.  Reading and writing assignments may include prose fiction, journals, poetry, drama, and essays.  Not open to first-year students in the fall semester.

One 2-hour period and individual conferences with the instructor.


Ms. Mark             T         1:00-3:00         CLS     

Introductory Creative Writing

Students in this course will read and write narratives in a number of modes. Though we’ll focus on short fiction and the elements of its composition (characterization, plot, structure, point of view, dialogue, voice, style, and so forth), we’ll also explore the increasingly permeable boundaries between fiction and nonfiction, prose and poetry. This section of Introductory Creative Writing is both a seminar and a workshop: students will read the work of experienced practitioners, analyze what they’ve read, and apply what they've learned to their own work. Readings may include works by Ashbery, Baldwin, Bambara, Barth, Barthelme, Beattie, Bishop, Bloom, Borges, Calvino, Carey, Carson, Chekhov, Cortázar, Edson, Erdrich, Faulkner, Hughes, Jen, Joyce, Kafka, Kincaid, Lahiri, Mullen, Munro, Nabokov, O'Connor, Packer, Paley, Saunders, Simic, Trevor, Wallace, Winterson, Wolff, and Woolf. Frequent conferences.


Mr. Smith           T         10:30-12:30     CLS     

Introductory Creative Writing

In this section we will focus on the short story form. In a supportive workshop environment, we will discuss recently published short fiction, engage in creative writing exercises, address key elements of craft, and offer constructive peer feedback on works in progress. Stories will not be limited to traditional narrative styles to encourage innovations in form, including prose poetry. Special emphasis will be placed on characterization, language, narrative voice, and the rigorous revisions often necessary to achieve what Edgar Allen Poe called ‘unified effect.’


Mr. Smith            R          10:30-12:30     CLS     

Introductory Creative Writing

In this section we will focus on the short story. In a supportive workshop environment, we will discuss recently published short fiction, engage in creative writing exercises, address key elements of craft, and offer peer feedback. Stories will not be limited to traditional narrative styles to encourage innovations in form, including prose poetry. Special emphasis will be placed on characterization, language, narrative voice, and the rigorous revisions often necessary to achieve what Edgar Allen Poe describes as ‘unified effect.’


Ms. Shengold           M         3:10-5:10         CLS

Introductory Creative Writing

There are countless ways to tell a story.  Pairing selected readings from different genres--short fiction, essays, plays, poems, and hybrid forms--we'll discuss each piece in practical carpentry terms.  How did the writer construct it?  What other choices are possible?  During the first weeks of class, you'll read extensively and write short pieces in many forms, exploring the range of your creative voice.  Later, we'll spend more time in workshop mode, learning the skills of constructive critique and revision.  You'll become close readers and sounding boards for each other's work, honing your editing skills and applying the same care and rigor to your works in progress.   In conference with the teacher, each student will choose a manuscript to expand and refine as a final project.


Mr. Joyce         M         6:30-8:30         CLS     

Introductory Creative Writing

Topic for 2019b: Healing.  In this section we will pay special attention to writing as a healing art. We will read and write narratives, poems, and memoirs as well as explore hybrid forms, including non-fictional narratives, multimedia, imagetexts, and so on. The course  will be of particular interest to—but not restricted to— those interested in medical professions. In writing about how a “physician enjoys a wonderful opportunity actually to witness the words being born,” the American poet and physician William Carlos Williams spoke of how healers “begin to see that the underlying meaning of all that [patients] want to tell us and have always failed to communicate is the poem, the poem which their lives are being lived to realize.”  We will try to approach that poem together here.

Prerequisite(s): open to any student who has taken English 205.


Mr. Kumar              W        10:30-12:30     CLS     

Advanced Creative Writing:  Narrative

Development of the student's abilities as a writer and reader of narrative, with particular emphasis on the short story. 

Topic for 2019a:  The Breath of Life  The title comes from a line by writer and editor William Maxwell: “After forty years, what I came to care about most was not style, but the breath of life.” It is one of my favorite quotes. I think Maxwell is saying that we need not worry too much about well-ordered paragraphs or achieving a distinctive syntactic rhythm—that all we need to catch is something ordinary but vital. I’d like us to devote our energies to the act or the practice of accessing both life and style. Readings will include Vivian Gornick on the difference between the situation and the story; John Berger, John McPhee, and Ira Glass on structure; Svetlana Alexievich, Claudia Rankine, Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, and Jonathan Franzen on finding words for living and dying; Janet Malcolm and Ian Jack on reporting about a world of differences; David Foster Wallace and Carolyn Forché on travel writing; and the words delivered in court by a woman raped on Stanford campus—to get to what exactly? Not life simply, or style alone, of course, but to understand what it means to find the right words to challenge the givenness of the world, to make it open to expression and change. Each session will begin with ten minutes of free-writing and will end with a brief discussion of rules of writing. At the end of the course, each student will be expected to have one developed or refined piece of writing (5-10 pp.) that can be submitted for publication.

Writing samples are due before pre-registration.  Check with the English office for the exact date of the deadline.  

*ENGL 209 is no longer a year-long course but is now being offered as a semester-long course for Fall and Spring semester.


Mr. Markus          TR       10:30-11:45     CLS     

Modern Drama:  Text and Performance after 1800

Study of modern dramatic texts and their embodiment both on the page and the stage. Authors, critical and theoretical approaches, dramatic genres, historical coverage, and themes may vary from year to year.

Topic for 2019a:  20th American Drama: Dysfunctional Families.  This course explores modern American plays that present debacles in the private sphere and its most widely accepted, codified, and institutionalized social manifestation: the family. As a site of incessant conflicts and negotiations between the individual and the other, and between the intimate and the public, the family offers an ideal framework and subject matter for commentary on a variety of moral and social issues. Through an overview of 20th and early 21st century American drama, this course pays particular attention to the vestiges of the American Dream in a range of dramatic representations of dysfunctional families. As a survey with a special focus, the course may include plays by Edward Albee, Lorraine Hansberry, David Henry Hwang, Stephen Karam, Basil Kreimendahl, Tracy Letts, Taylor Mac, Arthur Miller, Marsha Norman, Eugene O'Neill, Suzan-Lori Parks, Sam Shepard, Tennessee Williams, and August Wilson. We also read selected theoretical texts about the plays and the role and significance of family in the 20th century and today.  We place a great emphasis on the performative aspects of our discussed plays: we perform selected scenes as well as view and discuss a theater production staged at Vassar or in our larger area during the semester.


Mr. Perez           TR       12:00-1:15       CLS     

Queer of Color Critique

(Same as AFRS 218 and WMST 218) ”Queer of Color Critique” is a form of cultural criticism modeled on lessons learned from woman of color feminism, poststructuralism, and materialist and other forms of analysis. Among its main contentions, queer of color critique argues that gay liberation often has been defined too narrowly in terms of legal equality and that queer theory too often has universalized from privileged positions of power. Hence, queer of color critique seeks alternative analyses and politics especially attentive to the interdependence of race, gender, sexuality, disability, class, and nation. How are poverty, immigration, policing and massive incarceration, health care, reproductive rights, and collective bargaining queer issues? Throughout the semester, we evaluate what “queer” means and what kind of work it enables. Is it an identity or an anti-identity?  A verb, a noun, or an adjective?  A heuristic device, a strategy for political mobilization, or perhaps even a kind of literacy?


Ms. Vestri           MW     10:30-11:45     CLS

Love, Labor, & Loss: Romance and Gender in Early British Literature 

This course introduces students to British poetry, drama, and prose from the middle ages through the eighteenth century—a wide swath of historical territory, indeed. To ground our discussions, we will explore texts that deal with themes of romance, love, courtship, sex, and marriage. From the bawdy farce of Chaucer’s The Miller’s Tale to the murderous tragedy of Shakespeare’s Othello, our attention will focus on both careful close reading—attending to formal nuances of genre and style—as well as ideologies of gender, sexuality, race, religion, and nationality. Canonical authors may include Spenser, Sidney, Donne, Milton, Pope, Dryden, Swift, and Richardson, to be read alongside female writers such as Aphra Behn, Anne Finch, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, and Mary Wollstonecraft.  


Ms. Dunbar        TR       1:30-2:45         CLS     

African American Literature

Topic for 2019a:  The Harlem Renaissance and its Precursors

(Same as AFRS 227) This course places the Harlem Renaissance in literary historical perspective as it seeks to answer the following questions: In what ways was “The New Negro” new? How did African American writers of the Harlem Renaissance rework earlier literary forms from the sorrow songs to the sermon and the slave narrative? How do the debates that raged during this period over the contours of a black aesthetic trace their origins to the concerns that attended the entry of African Americans into the literary public sphere in the eighteenth century? 


Ms. Sweany         MW     1:30-2:45         CLS     

Old English

Desire you to read old English? Speak plainly.

Wait, wait, that is old English, but it isn’t Old English (it’s Early Modern English, the language of Shakespeare).

Desirest þu to reden olde englische?

No, no, that isn’t it either. That is also an older English, but it is still not Old English (it’s Middle English, close to the dialect of Chaucer’s English).

Biþ þis ealde englisc??

Yes, that is Old English!

In a time when Latin was the language of the learned and the literate, the language of the law and of the prevailing Christian faith, Old English was significant enough (in England) to be used for legal, religious, scientific, and literary texts. Thus, Old English is significant not only in the history of English itself but also in the history of vernacular writing in western Europe. Furthermore, texts recorded in Old English have important, if seldom-acknowledged, effects on the modern world. For example, Thomas Jefferson thought that instruction in Old English should begin in elementary school and that the language had democratic ideals embedded in it—ideas that are only the tip of his disturbingly expansionist and nationalistic agenda for the language. And, in the 19th c., Old English was the vehicle by which American women scholars advanced academic careers in a period when the academy was dominated by men (although while still reifying existing hierarchies of race and class). Vassar may have been the first women’s college in the United States to offer Old English, making this course a significant Vassar tradition.

In this class we will learn and practice the grammar and vocabulary of this earliest form of English. You will also get to experience the genres of writing in which Old English was used by its speakers and learn about the social values and literary motifs that this corpus preserves. This knowledge will prepare you to read Beowulf in its original form, which is the focus of English 236.


Mr. Hill          TR       1:30-2:45         CLS     

Medieval Literature

This course serves as an introduction to medieval literature, with a focus on Middle English literatures (c. 1066-1550). Students will become familiar with the linguistic and stylistic features of Middle English, and will read a variety of texts from the period. Special topics for the course will vary from year to year; examples of topics include: Arthurian literature, Chaucer, the Chaucerian tradition, women’s writing in the Middle Ages, transnational/comparative medieval literatures (including French and Italian), medieval “autobiography,” the alliterative tradition, Piers Plowman and the Piers tradition, dream visions, fifteenth century literature and the bridge to the “early modern,” literature and heresy, gender and sexuality in the Middle Ages, and medieval mystical writing. Students will engage throughout with the process of establishing English as a “literary” language; authorial identity; the grounding of English literary tradition; and the role of translation and adaptation in medieval writing.

Topic for 2019a: Geoffrey Chaucer: The Canterbury Tales   In this course we will spend the semester on the road with Chaucer in a collective reading of his encyclopedic human comedy, The Canterbury Tales, sauntering with him through fourteenth-century England.  An important part of this leisurely immersion will be sensory and linguistic, as we experience the text in the original Middle English, acquiring as an added benefit facility in English philology. Through close reading, class discussion, and writing we will consider the Tales as they provide diverse, intersecting pathways into Medieval critical attitudes toward social and class distinctions, religious and gender antagonisms, town/gown animosities, discourses of desire and sexuality, and conflicts born of a developing urbanism during England’s transformation from a feudal to an early modern society.  Besides this “social Chaucer” we will consider the “clerkly Chaucer,” and what the Tales tell us about his influential insights into authorship and reading, language and meaning, science and nature, philosophy and ethics, history and collective memory, psychology and the construction of a modern self.


Mr. Markus         TR       3:10-4:25         CLS


Study of some representative comedies, histories, and tragedies.

Topic for 2019a: Shakespeare and Gender.  This course offers an introduction to Shakespeare studies through the discussion of seven Shakespeare plays: The Taming of the Shrew, Richard III, Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hamlet, Othello, and The Tempest.  Situating these plays in the cultural and historical contexts in which they were written and performed, we will be able to appreciate significant differences as well as intriguing continuities between early 17th century and early 21st century interpretations and representations regarding such basic concepts and institutions as gender, family, filial and marital duties, marriage, the “private sphere,” and sexuality.  Moreover, by examining these plays in production both on the stage and on the screen, we will try to determine their current meanings and cultural significance.  To attain this second crucial aim, we will view and discuss a stage production as well as several film adaptations of our plays and organize staged readings of selected scenes.

Not open to students who have taken English 241 and English 242.


Ms. Gemmill        TR       12:00-1:15       CLS     

The Age of Romanticism

Topic of 2019a: The Age of Romanticism: Revolution and Rebellion. This course surveys the literature of the Romantic period through the lens of revolution and rebellion, both of which characterize this period in British history on a number of levels.  Across the English Channel, French civilians were overthrowing their monarchy; revolutions in science and technology were catapulting Europe into the industrial era; English poets were rebelling against what they perceived to be the antiquated poetic forms of the eighteenth century; and prose writers were producing some of the original human rights manifestos, calling for women’s empowerment and the abolition of the British slave trade. Paying close attention to these historical and political contexts, we will examine how writers of the period mobilized the concept of revolution in their literary works and used it as an impetus for experimentation, on both thematic and formal levels. Surveyed poets include Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Barbauld, Robinson, Byron, Shelley and Keats; fiction writers include Austen, Shelley and Polidori; and prose writers include Burke, De Quincey, Prince and Wollstonecraft.

Themes, topics, genres: The Gothic and the supernatural, Origins of the vampire myth, Literature of addiction, Poetry and dreams, Theories of poetic innovation, Abolitionism, Political and feminist poetry, The Romantic sublime.


Ms. Zlotnick         MW     1:30-2:45         CLS

Nineteenth-Century British Novels

The nineteenth century was a preeminent age for novel writing in Great Britain, and in one semester we cannot acquaint ourselves with all the great books, or all the major novelists, of the period.  Instead, the aim of this course is to learn how to read a nineteenth-century British novel by familiarizing ourselves with the conventional plots of the period (i.e., the marriage plot, the inheritance plot), its common literary idioms (such as realism, melodrama, and the Gothic) as well as some characteristic forms (the bildungsroman, the fictional autobiography) and central preoccupations (domesticity, industrialism, urbanization, imperialism, social mobility, and class relations).  We will also focus on careful reading and writing through short close reading assignments as well as through a few longer critical essays. Finally, this course introduces students to secondary literature, in anticipation of the work carried out in 300-level English courses.  Readings vary but will include novels by Charles Dickens, William Thackeray, Charlotte Brontë, Elizabeth Gaskell, George Eliot, and Thomas Hardy.


Mr. Russell          MW     1:30-2:45         CLS     

Modern British and Irish Literature

British and Irish Literature from the first half of the twentieth century. The mix and focus of genres, topics and authors varies depending on the instructor. However, the period in question covers such writers as Joseph Conrad, W. B. Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Vera Brittain, Samuel Beckett, George Orwell, and Graham Greene. 


II. Intermediate Intensives



Ms. Dunbar        Various Fridays 12-4    INT    

Storytelling and the Black Literature Archive

This intensive is for students interested in Black literature, archival research, and/or creative fiction/non-fiction writing. By the end of the semester, students will be invited to tell an “original” story inspired by digging through the black literary archives. Toward that end, students will gain practical training in undertaking archival research within the “manuscripts, rare books, and papers” division of centers devoted to Black Studies. We will take multiple visits to the Schomburg Center for Research In Black Culture in Harlem (NYC), as well as access various digital archives available for the study of Black literary history. Additionally, we will read Black archive theory to consider the stakes inherent to any archival collection. We will discuss how the archives shape the craft of creating (non-traditional) literary writing. Writing workshops dedicated to the production of dynamic, accessible fiction/non-fiction prose round out this intensive experience.

This is a 1 unit intensive open to 4 students. 

290 a or b.

Field Work              INT

Field work is open by special permission of the associate chair, and is usually offered for one-half unit of credit.

Field Work projects are sponsored by individual faculty members in the department.  Students interested in Field Work should see page 30 for further details on the requirements.