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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.


Mr. Smith           R          1:00-3:00           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 Allan Poe describes as ‘unified effect.’


Ms. Kane            M         1:00-3:00           CLS

Introductory Creative Writing

This course will help students develop their basic skills in writing verse and short prose forms. The assignments focus on some of the fundamental elements of writing in these genres, and all students will be expected to experiment with both genres in their own work. (Scripts, genre literature, and illustrated work will not be covered or accepted as submissions.) In addition, literary analysis of published writing is a crucial aspect of the course.  Later in the semester, students will have the opportunity to generate longer, self-directed assignments.  We will discuss student work as well as other readings, which aim to expand writers' repertoire of models, techniques, theories, and structures.  Responsible participation in the workshop, through comment and discussion of all assigned reading and punctual submission of manuscripts, is an essential requirement. Each student must also meet with me in an individual conference at least twice during the semester.  At the end of the term, each student will submit a final portfolio, which must include at least one substantial revision.


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

Introductory Creative Writing: First Person Singular

There are countless ways to tell a story.  First person narration engages the reader directly, whether the narrator's voice belongs to the author or a fictional character. Pairing first-person readings from different genres--memoir, essay, fiction, confessional and persona poems--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 a wide variety of literary works and write short pieces in many forms, exploring the range of your creative voice.  Later, we'll move into 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.


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

Intermediate Creative Writing

Topic for 2020b: Crossovers.  Students will read and write stories that rub up against traditional boundaries, leap over them, move them, and sometimes dissolve them. Taking to heart the lessons of permaculture, where the greatest energy lies at the borders, we’ll investigate familiar dichotomies (fiction/fact, prose/poetry, text/image, high/low, comedic/dramatic, female/male, gay/straight, erotic/intellectual) and search for textual pleasures in a more fluid world. This section of Intermediate 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. Likely writers: Maggie Nelson, Carmen Maria Machado, Anne Carson, Justin Torres, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Audre Lorde, Zadie Smith, Claudia Rankine, James Baldwin, Jenny Zhang, Purvi Shah, Layli Long Soldier, Gloria Anzaldúa, Ocean Vuong, Ali Wong.

Prerequisite: open to all students who have taken English 205, or by permission of the instructor.


Mr. Smith             T          1:00-3:00           CLS

Intermediate Creative Writing

Topic for 2020b: Writing Nature.  Throughout time, the ways in which humans interact with the environment has yielded some illuminating narratives. In this section, students will develop their own approaches to nature writing by engaging with the works of both creative writers and eco-theorists. Class time will be concerned with discussing published stories and memoirs, uncovering historical and recent advances in ecocriticism, writing exercises, and workshopping student pieces in a supportive manner. Topics/themes will range from climate change to the metaphoric role of animals in literature. Readings will feature such writers as Lynn White, Barry Lopez, Rene Dubos, Yi-Fu Tuan, Paul Shepherd, Mary Shelly, Greg Gerrard, Charlene Spretnak, Robert McFarlane, and Rachel Carson.

Prerequisite: open to all students who have taken English 205, or by permission of the instructor.


Ms. Shengold           W         1:00-3:00           CLS

Intermediate Creative Writing

Topic for 2020b: Dialogue Forms: Building the Scene.  This class examines character, action, and dialogue through the building block of the scene.  We'll do close readings of selected scenes from classic and contemporary fiction, plays, and screenplays by such writers as Grace Paley, Denis Johnson, Jesmyn Ward, Colum McCann, Samuel Beckett, Caryl Churchill, Maria Irene Fornes, Sam Shepard, Diana Son, Waldo Salt, Dee Rees, Tarell Alvin McCraney, and John Patrick Shanley.  You'll write scenes in each of these literary and performance forms, moving from short exercises to more sustained pieces and a longer final project that you'll expand and revise in intensive workshop sessions, honing your editorial and revision skills.  Acting experience is not required, but students should be willing to read their own and others' work aloud in a supportive workshop environment.  The class will culminate with an informal reading performance of students' short fiction, one-act plays, and short screenplays. 

Prerequisite: open to all students who have taken English 205, or by permission of the instructor.


Mr. King             F          3:10-5:10           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. 

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

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


Mr. Kane               T          3:10-5:10           CLS

Advanced Creative Writing:  Verse

This course aims to develop and enhance the student’s abilities as a writer and reader of poetry. Particular attention will be paid to poetic form and the resources of verse. Interested students should submit writing samples via email attachments to:

This course also includes a .5 Intensive: English 386.51, Vassar Poetry Review, for those interested in publishing their work. Non-majors as well as majors welcome. 

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

One 2-hour period and individual conferences with the instructor, plus 1-hour Intensive, T 5:10-6:10, for those enrolled in 386.51.


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

Process, Prose, Pedagogy

(Same as MEDS 214) An exploration of the intersections among language, form, genre, and medium, this course aims to deepen your appreciation for and understanding of multimodal authorship. To do so, we focus our critical gaze upon one of the more experimental periods of textual production: literary modernism. Together, we consider selections of poetry, short fiction, the novel, woodcut narratives, autobiography, letters, manifestos, essays, and film produced by a diverse range of authors such as Mina Loy and Djuna Barnes, Mu Shiying and Mikhail Bulgakov, Max Ernst and Zora Neale Hurston––as well as more canonical figures like James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and Samuel Beckett. Our discussions center on the ways in which writing emerges from its immediate historical contexts, and also how genre and medium look beyond their present moment, revising models inherited from the past and anticipating future forms of expression. Ultimately, this course helps us to better analyze and construct arguments about distinct types of texts through the sustained practice of close critical reading and recursive writing, and to sharpen our ability to facilitate dialogue about complex ideas and various modes of communication. 


Ms. Vestri          MW      12:00-1:15         CLS

Madwomen in the Attic

(Same as WMST 218) In 1979, feminist critics Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar articulated a crucial point that was, at the time, shifting the terrain of literary studies: “The poet’s pen,” they remark, “is in some sense (even more than figuratively) a penis.” Male gender, in other words, had somehow become a necessary requirement for creative genius. No robust critical architecture existed by which to understand and appreciate work written by female authors, especially those of the Victorian period, for the predominant hermeneutics of analysis had not only been produced by male writers but remained about them as well. Since the publication of Madwoman in the Attic and other feminist critiques of the 1970s and 1980s, scholars have expanded the horizons of literary studies to address the many ways that women’s voices make meaning, both inside and outside the textual body. What work remains left to do? What value is there, in other words, in examining an exclusive heritage, or sisterhood, of women’s literature? In this course, we will engage writing by British and American female-identified authors to explore the obstacles and successes involved when women pick up the pen. Authors studied in this course may include Mary Wollstonecraft, Fanny Burney, Maria Edgeworth, Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, Elizabeth Gaskell, Christina Rossetti, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Kate Chopin, George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans), Michael Field (aunt-niece pair Katherine Bradley and Edith Cooper), Virginia Woolf, Jean Rhys, Nella Larsen, Zora Neale Hurston, Angela Carter, Zadie Smith, Jamaica Kincaid, and Alison Bechdel.


Ms. Graham            MW      12:00-1:15         CLS

American Literature, 1865-1925

This course provides exposure to a diverse group of American authors who wrote between 1865-1925 but who belong to no school. True, some were realists, naturalists, or modernists, but these terms do not apply to all. The one term that defines the period is ‘difference’ (read variously as contention, invidious comparison, change, diversity, gender dissidence). This course will simulate the great rupture between nineteenth-century prose styles and those of the twentieth century, but you will be mindful of the earlier radical streak in American fiction. Works studied are drawn from such authors as Henry James, Chopin, DuBois, Gilman, Wharton, Dreiser, Pound, Eliot, Stein, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Hurston, and Toomer. 


Mr. Simpson, Ms. Tucker         TR 10:30-11:45 / R 4:00-6:00        CLS     

African American Literature

Topic for 2020b: From the Page to the Stage: Turning Black Literature into Black Drama. (Same as AFRS 228 and DRAM 228) This course will explore the expressive possibilities of 20th century black literature by means of critical reading, critical writing, and critical performance. Students will examine key works in their historical context, paying attention to the criticism and theory that have shaped their reception (Hayden, Giovanni, Brooks, Hurston, Baldwin, Morrison, Johnson, Whitehead). They will then attempt to transform parts of these texts into scenes as informed by past and present theories of performance and theatre making. Their work will culminate in a public performance of the pieces they have conceived. Tyrone Simpson, Shona Tucker.


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


(Same as MRST 236) In this class we will explore the poem Beowulf through its original articulation in Old English, a variety of translations, and its critical scholarly history. While Beowulf has long been read as a heroic poem, it is largely elegiac while also dealing with many aspects of early medieval culture including: inter-cultural contact, gender, monstrosity, and religion. This class will explore both how all of these themes appear in this poem via Old English and how they have been grappled with by translators and scholars. This class will incorporate a substantial amount of translation work and therefore knowledge of Old English is a prerequisite.

Prerequisite: English 235 or demonstrated knowledge of Old English, or permission of the instructor.


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

Eighteenth-Century British Novels

Topic for 2020b: Miss Behavior: Transgressive Women in 18th-Century British Fiction. (Same as WMST 247) The focus of this course is eighteenth-century English fiction that features “girls gone wild,” women who violate the stringent social codes dictating their behavior in this period. We will read a range of critical texts—some contemporary to us, and others contemporary to the 18th-century writers on our syllabus—to learn what constituted “misbehavior” for women, and who was making the rules. Conduct books, educational treatises, periodical literature, pamphlets and political writings give us a cultural context, and prepare us to examine how fiction writers were reflecting and reshaping codes of conduct for their own social, political and artistic ends.

Because the act of writing itself often constituted misbehavior for eighteenth-century women, texts by women differ considerably from those by men with regard to topics, style and genre. In the first half of the course, we see male authors diversely imagining female cross-dressers, “female husbands” (a contemporary term for women who sought to partner with other women), prostitutes, witches, sadists and pleasure-seekers. In the second half, we see women writers working in two literary modes—the gothic, and the novel of manners—to respond to oppressive societal concerns about femininity and modesty. Students leave this course not only with a strong sense of the cultural history of female comportment in eighteenth-century England, but also having looked closely at how these pervasive social codes interacted with literary form to shape the fiction of the period.


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

The Novel in English after 1945

Topic for 2020b: The Dystopian Novel. This semester we will read novels and short stories that re-envision their respective Nows as imminent Dystopias, beginning with Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932) and George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) - founding narratives that establish the polar ends of the genre. Other texts include: Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Doris Lessing’s Memoirs of a Survivor, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, Octavia Butler’s Bloodchild, an assortment of stories by Shirley Jackson, J.G. Ballard, Philip K. Dick, Ken Liu, Rebecca Roanhorse, and selected episodes of Black Mirror.

285. 51

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

Resistance Literature: Protest, Activism, and American Literature

In 1926 the African-American intellectual W.E.B. Du Bois declared, “all art is propaganda and ever must be, despite the wailing of the purists.” These were and continue to be fighting words for many writers who value “craft” over ideology. But does the distinction matter? Should it? Can a text be well-crafted and move us to (want to) change the world? At some level, these are rhetorical questions. American literature is rife with stories, novels, poems, and essays that have incited or speak to the necessity of our fighting for significant shifts in American culture. Thus, this course examines how US-based writers have used their art to right/write the world otherwise. Topics covered may range from abolition, the climate crisis, food justice, Civil Rights, #BlackLivesMatter, gender equity, #MeToo, and prison reform/abolition. We will work between the genres of realism and the speculative (utopic/dystopic) in the hopes of thinking about how literature has and continues to allow us to see and be the change we need. 

II. Intermediate Intensives



Mr. Chang            W         1:30-2:30           INT

New York Stories

“New York had all the iridescence of the beginning of the world.”  – F. Scott Fitzgerald.  For this intensive, we will read stories – novels, short fiction, journalism, memoirs – set in New York City. We will visit, and in many cases, attempt to conjure, the vanished places where the stories were set. Only by haunting these physical sites and recreating them through the virtual technologies of history and literature will we get to see not only what the authors saw, but what they saw that wasn’t there, and what was there they didn’t see. Your main mentored assignment will entail constructing a walking tour for your classmates centered on the author’s real and imagined life in the city. Texts might include: Teju Cole’s Open City, Chang-Rae Lee’s Native Speaker, Paula Fox’s Desperate Characters, Joseph Cassara’s The House of Impossible Beauties: A Novel, Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Patti Smith’s M Train, Thomas Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge, Toni Morrison’s Jazz, Luc Sante’s Low Life, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “My Lost City” … you name it. We will devise the syllabus together.

Class meets every other week, including, depending on funding, three or four daylong trips to the city. No prerequisites; open to sophomores, juniors and seniors. 


Mr. Márkus                                INT

Reviewing Shakespeare

This course has a double objective of developing the students’ understanding of a selected Shakespeare play performed in New York City as well as enhancing their analytical and writing skills by learning how to write theater reviews. At the beginning of the semester, we decide on viewing a selected production of a Shakespeare play in New York City (funding for travel and theater tickets is available from Vassar College).

This intensive exercise has the following assignments:

1/ At the beginning of the semester, students read assigned studies on the selected Shakespeare play as well as on issues and methods of analyzing stage performances. In preparation of viewing the play, the students write an analytical paper about an assigned topic of the play and its stage history.

2/ After having viewed the play, each student collects 5-10 reviews about the stage production and writes a “review of reviews” with special attention to the methodology and structure of the discussed review articles.

3/ As the culmination of the preparatory work listed above, the students write their own review of the stage production. 

The course will include a trip to New York City.

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.

Independent Study

Independent Study is open by special permission of the associate chair. Independent Study is intended to supplement (not duplicate) the regular curricular offerings by defining special projects in reading and writing under the direction of an individual faculty member.  The prerequisite for Independent Study at the 200- or 300-level is 2 units of 200-level work in English.

Application forms for Independent Study are available in the English department office.

298 a or b.                         (1/2 Unit)                      

Open by permission of the associate chair. 1 unit of credit given only in exceptional cases.

399 a or b.                         (1/2 Unit)                      

Senior Independent Work

Open by permission of the associate chair.  1 unit of credit given only in exceptional cases.