/ English Department


We offer a wide range of unique classes taught by professors who love what they do and take joy in furthering their students intellectually, spiritually and socially.

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Special Topics (ENGL 113)

Catalog course ENGL 113 consists of multiple topics of focus that vary each semester. Current and/or forthcoming descriptions are listed below. To see course details, including dates, times and professors, please use the Registrar’s course schedule.


ENGL 113.01 Wit, Wisdom, and Wizardry

When you have to make a difficult decision, how do you proceed? Do you carefully analyze the circumstances and rationally weigh your options? Do you cry, “It’s not my fault!” and lash out at the world that forced the decision upon you? Do you close your eyes, grit your teeth and just accept whatever wild ride you’re on, vaguely hoping for the best? How do various aspects of your identity shape the decisions you make? How do the decisions you make shape the person you become? 

In this class, we’ll read three books together, looking at ways that different characters approach the process of decision-making and identity. We’ll discuss different factors that affect their decisions, from family expectations and gender issues to friendships and special talents. We’ll write about ourselves and how we make our own decisions, as well as about these characters and what we can learn from them. Writing for this course will include daily reading responses, several short essays and a research paper.

ENGL 113.02 Crime and Punishment
Did your mom or dad or grandparents take this same course from me?  If the COVID-19 situation allows me to teach this spring, it will be the 51st year in a row that I have been offering this class title! Only the books and faces have changed. This is your chance to play Erin Brockovich or James Bond or Ralph Nader or Agatha Christie, hot on the trail of clues leading to the exposure of past or current problems of law and order, cops and robbers, race and gender, crime and punishment. Readings, written exercises and experiments, compositions, research projects, interviews, discussions and classroom capers will focus on such significant issues as prison conditions, crimes against women and minorities, biological terrorism, drinking laws, medical dilemmas, environmental crimes. With luck and skill, you may write the perfect crime or, at least, the perfect expository essay. Several classes will be devoted to writing workshops where you will read and comment on rough and polished drafts of papers by class members. TV programs and occasional films may supplement the reading material.

ENGL 113.03 and 04 Analyzing Empathy
In this course, we will use the complex and sometimes controversial concept of empathy as a basis for the study of the conventions and possibilities of academic writing. Through a variety of readings — primarily essays and short fiction — we will explore the challenges that face writers endeavoring to define empathy and to determine how it can contribute to contemporary society. We will begin with texts that depict or challenge common methods, such as personal observation and storytelling, that allow us to engage with the feelings and experiences of others. We will then turn toward more specific cases, including works of historical drama and speculative fiction that attempt to give readers access to thoughts and emotions that might be drastically different from their own experiences. Throughout the course, we will think critically about this subject matter and the questions about it that our readings might raise: What are the limits of empathy? When might an empathetic approach create harm instead of helping? To what extent is it the responsibility of writers to create an easy sense of connection for their readers, and to what extent is it the responsibility of readers to engage with perspectives that differ from their own? Is empathy valuable as an abstract feeling, or does it only take on value when it translates into action?

ENGL 113.05 Stephen King: Trash or Talent?

“I think with the best writing you can actually feel the writer’s joy, the writer’s vision, or something like that.” —Stephen King

Stephen King is a contemporary literary phenomenon: Since the beginning of his career in the 1970s he has averaged at least one new title per year, and his books continue to sell like candy corn at Halloween. Some people dismiss his work as trash, just low-quality popcult horror stories; even King has jokingly referred to himself as a “salami writer.” But other readers insist that throughout his page-turner fiction King addresses serious, even urgent concerns. What are we afraid of, both as a society and as flesh-and-goosebumped individuals? What are the problems of family life and interpersonal relations? How does American society deal with racial prejudice? What about the scourge of alcoholism and other forms of substance abuse? How has our history made us what we are as a nation? What explains our perennial attraction to the supernatural, even in its more ghoulish manifestations? How has the literature of the past — especially the Gothic tradition, spawned in 1764 and still proliferating — infiltrated the literature of the present?

These are some of the questions we will address in a course that is at its core an introduction to college-level writing: how to form sentences in a variety of modes, how to incorporate appropriate punctuation, how to compose a coherent and interesting academic essay and how to produce a research project you can be proud of. King’s novels The Shining (1977) and The Green Mile (1996) will be our foundational texts, accompanied by a selection of shorter fiction that demonstrates his relation to other works of the supernatural. And we will also contemplate the transmogrification of his scenarios into film and other media (comic books, cartoons, even opera).

ENGL 113.06, 08,12, 13 and 14 Expository Writing
This course is an introduction to the process of academic writing, designed to prepare you for the writing you’ll do in college. We’ll practice genres including personal narrative and argumentative essay, writing on topics chosen by students. We’ll pay particular attention to:

  1. Discourse communities, the groups and contexts in which writing takes place
  2. Rhetoric, using words and other elements to create and communicate meaning
  3. Research, seeking out the ideas of those who have gone before us to inform our own work.

English 113.07 Well-Being
In this course we will critically think, read and write about the questions: What is wellness? What does it mean to be well? We’ll consider mental health, spiritual welfare, sexual health, mindfulness and social thriving. We'll also take a critical eye to the “wellness” industry and ask whether it is possible to sell well-being. This course is designed to help you polish your skills at writing essays in Standard Edited American English, which we do through practice. You will explore the tools available through Van Wylen Library and prepare to meet future writing and research assignments in college courses. This class is highly participatory, so be ready to talk and share your work.

English 113.09 and 15 Harlem Renaissance
As material to read, think and write about, this course is a very brief sampling of the cultural production centered around Harlem, New York, during the time of African American flourishing generally known as The Harlem Renaissance. The period from about 1919 until roughly 1934 marked the emergence of a distinctly modern Black literature, music and visual art. The course will begin with material from the late 19th century in order to understand the forces giving birth to the Renaissance, and it will conclude in the 1930s as the Great Depression largely put an end to the time “when Harlem was in vogue.” The course does include discussion of music and some visual art, but its primary focus will be on fiction and poetry along with essays from a wide range of remarkable writers.

English 113.10 Language and Culture
This writing course explores how language creates and interprets culture. We will learn about how our attitudes about language shape our realities and about how language mediates the way we understand ourselves and our cultures. Readings and projects will cover a range of topics including the ways that language and culture influence one another, the rhetoric of social media and analyses of cultural phenomena. Students will also develop research projects in an area of personal interest. 

English 113.11 Outdoor Writing
Welcome to the trailhead! This outdoor-themed section of English 113 aims to equip students with the writing foundation needed to journey far in both education and life. In learning to write with prose that is concise, powerful and persuasive, we will study literature inspired by the outdoors and make a semester-long exploration based on one question: How do people and places shape one another? For the first third of the semester, we will ask this question on an individual level as we read narrative accounts of men and women in remote and wild places. During the rest of the semester, we will explore this question on a societal level, studying essays and arguments about the relevance of the environment to humanity’s health and well-being. We will read fiction and nonfiction by modern outdoor writers — including Wendell Berry, Rachel Carson, Latria Graham and Edward Abbey — to study the intricacies of language and how to craft strong, thesis-driven works. We will learn the art of persuasive research writing as we read Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods, which crafts a strong argument about the dangers of separating young people from nature. All the while, we will learn to write with specificity and authority, gaining the kinds of research and critical-thinking skills necessary to thrive in academia. Throughout the course of the semester, we will also venture off-campus a few times to practice writing with specificity and imagery in outdoor areas.

Special Topics (Upper-Level ENGL Courses)

Upper-level ENGL COURSES and desCRIPTIONS — Spring 2023

ENGL 248.01 Intro to Lit Studies: Faith and Belief in Literature
This course offers an introduction to the study of literature and genre through the lens of faith and belief. We will examine how writers have creatively grappled with some of the knottiest and deepest questions of life:

  • How do our beliefs shape the stories of our lives? 
  • How do the stories we tell affect what we believe? 
  • How and why do people change what they believe? 
  • Is there a higher power? Who is God?
  • To what extent are different faith stances compatible?
  • What is the purpose of our lives? How can we live rightly?

We will study and analyze film, creative nonfiction, poetry and especially literary narrative in different forms (novel, short story, graphic novel, personal narrative, etc.). We will explore how the ways in which stories and texts are constructed plays a role in their messages and meanings, and we'll reflect on their relevance to our own lives and beliefs.  

ENGL 248.02 Intro to Lit Studies: Literature, Lies, and Belief
Literary works ask us to believe in many things. In this course, we will think about how to respond. We will analyze the secrets that characters bury and the detectives and storytellers who bring those secrets to the surface. We will examine attempts to put visions of God, the soul and the afterlife into words. We will explore the joys that come from exercising the imagination and the grief that comes from disillusionment. We will encounter manipulative leaders and unreliable narrators who use words to control characters, stories and even readers.

In order to develop a full understanding of this range of truths and lies, we will apply methods of close reading to a number of genres, including fiction, poetry, drama and graphic novels. We will also develop the critical lenses that bring literary works into conversation with ideas like racial justice, mental health and gender studies. Authors will include Kazuo Ishiguro, Dorothy Sayers, Jhumpa Lahiri, Gabriel Garcia Márquez, Margaret Atwood, Emily Dickinson, Trung Le Nguyen, Gwendolyn Brooks, Arthur Conan Doyle, Ted Chiang, William Shakespeare and Toni Morrison.