English

Man reading book

In the Department of English, students think about, study and write about the artful ways in which people can and do use words, from thousand-year-old epics about fighting monsters to the intimate poems and the public addresses of our own time. The department is, also, the academic home at Harvard for creative writers and creative writing. Undergraduates may pursue a Concentration and Secondary Field.

Director of Undergraduate StudiesDeidre Lynch
Associate Director of Undergraduate StudiesDerek Miller
Director of Creative WritingDarcy Frey
Undergraduate Program AdministratorLauren Bimmler

Gateway Courses

  • English 10, English 20, and English 97 are concentration requirements and are designed to provide a common foundation for concentrators, and must be completed by the end of the second year. If you arrive at Harvard sure that you want to pursue a concentration or secondary field in English, we urge you to enroll in both English 10 and English 20 in your first year. For a more exploratory approach, students are also welcome to enroll in or apply for admission to any English class, including creative writing workshops and other courses taught by English Department faculty, like HUM 10, General Education courses, and First-Year Seminars. Visit the course listings on our website to see our exciting offerings! We welcome you to chat with us about where to find your favorite authors or the topics and issues that are on your mind in our classrooms.
  • The English Department offers a wide array of creative writing workshops in poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, as well as work for screen, stage, and other media. Our workshops are small, providing writers an opportunity to focus intensively on one genre. All undergraduates may apply for admission to creative writing workshops. For Spring 2022, applications are due by Saturday, January 15; more information can be found on the department’s website.

 

Spring 2022

ENGLISH 111: Epic: from Homer to Star Wars
Vidyan Ravinthiran and Leah Whittington

Epic is one of the most enduring and far-reaching forms of artistic expression. From the heroic poems of the ancient Near East to modern films of quest and adventure, epic speaks to the shared values and collective aspirations of cultures, peoples, and communities. But if its formal conventions and thematic interests endure, epic changes over time. In this course, you will study the historical and literary evolution of epic as it moves from oral verse into new genres and media, reading texts from the ancient Mediterranean alongside works of poetry, fiction, and cinema from early modern Britain, twentieth-century America, and the contemporary Global South. We will look at some texts in their entirety and others in extracts, focusing on Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Vergil’s Aeneid, Milton’s Paradise Lost, Derek Walcott’s Omeros, The Mahabharata (in prose and film versions), and George Lucas’ Star Wars, with detailed analysis of Gwendolyn Brooks’s American epics on Black life, Annie Allen and In the Mecca. If issues of identity, belonging, and community have always been explored in epic, what is the place of epic in a pluralist multi-culture? What are our contemporary epics today? 

ENGLISH 124SG: Sex, Gender, and Shakespeare
Alan Niles

This class is an introduction to Shakespeare’s writings and their representations of sex, gender, romance, love, and queerness. We will study poems about erotic and queer desire, plays that stage ideas about gender and gender fluidity, and film adaptations that bring modern perspectives to race and sexuality. Readings will include such plays as Twelfth NightRomeo and JulietA Midsummer Night’s DreamTitus AndronicusMacbeth, and Measure for Measure; Shakespeare’s Sonnets; and films by Derek Jarman, Baz Luhrmann, and Julie Taymor. Throughout our course, we will ask: how are the forms of gender identity and sexual expression we encounter in Shakespeare’s works familiar, or different? How might they challenge, inspire, or disturb us today?

ENGLISH 162BB: Broadway Bodies, or Representation on the Great White Way
Derek Miller

To many of its fans, Hamilton poses a problem. How can a show that presents so many talented artists of color represent a white-washed American history? And how should we evaluate the show’s impact when sky-high ticket prices make it accessible primarily to a wealthy (read: white) audience? In its aspirational embrace of a multi-ethnic America and its failure fully to realize that promise, Hamilton embodies the paradox of Broadway. This course examines that paradox since World War II, particularly as it pertains to multiple aspects of identity including race, gender, sexuality, and disability. We will examine how shows such as South Pacific, with its famous anti-racist anthem, or M. Butterfly, which explored the intersections of Orientalism, gender, and sex, temper their inclusive representations to appeal to a wide commercial audience. Broadway is a particularly fertile ground for exploring these issues because theatrical performances always call attention to the performative nature of subjectivity: that is, who you are is a product of what you do. As we shall see, though, theatrical performatives risk being “infelicitous,” in the words of philosopher J.L. Austin: instead of affirming the subjects they represent, the performances can turn those subjects into mere theater. Our starting assumption is that many Broadway stake-holders genuinely desire broader representation in and for their work, but that the structure of the industry constrains how these shows challenge the status quo. To understand those constraints we will ask what stories Broadway tells, who sees them, and how they are marketed—while always attuned to “who tells your story.”

ENGLISH 173BL: The Black Lyric
Tracy Smith

African American poets have long embraced the private freedoms of the lyric poem—freedom to claim the authority of an uncontested first person “I”; freedom to wrangle language into new and startling forms; freedom to depart as needed from the strictures of linear reality. And yet, from its earliest iterations, African American poetry has also concerned itself with correcting and complicating the official narrative of Black life and Black subjectivity in America. This course will explore the means by which Black poets have innovated upon the lyric tradition to accommodate a sense of allegiance to a collective. In this tradition, the lyric poem has become a powerful tool with which to ponder the dynamics of self and other, intimate and political—and justice and injustice. Course readings will include work by seminal 20th Century American figures such as Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, Robert Hayden and Lucille Clifton, as well as contemporary voices like Jericho Brown, Tyehimba Jess, Morgan Parker, Eve L. Ewing and others. We will also devote attention to lyric corollaries in film, music, visual art and performance. Students will be encouraged to respond to course themes and texts in both critical and creative form.

ENGLISH 190VE: Voices of Environmental Justice
Sarah Dimick

This course considers the relationships between systems of human injustice and environmental issues—including industrial disasters, ocean acidification, and resource extraction. We examine environmental justice writing and artwork with a transnational, interconnected approach. For example, we ask how the Ogoni activist Ken Saro-Wiwa’s writing on oil pipelines in the Niger Delta anticipates Native American protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline. We draw connections between a poem documenting silicosis in the lungs of West Virginian coal miners and a novel portraying the aftermath of the Union Carbide gas leak in Bhopal. We compare a nonfiction account of Kenyan women resisting deforestation and an iPhone app reclaiming public access along the Malibu coast. We explore questions of voice, genre, and narrative, cataloguing the strategies writers and artists use to reach a global audience.