Academic Departments

English Department

We think of Shakespeare as a writer, but he was formatively a reader of books and life. It was said of Shakespeare that he could get more from a single book than most people could from the whole British Museum. He mastered the art of absorption and synthesis, the ability to read and appreciate and, with that knowledge, make something new. These are our goals in the VES English department. And Shakespeare was a man of the world too—not just academically inclined. So when one reads Shakespeare, one finds everything from references to curing leather (his father was a glove maker) to legal terms he picked up likely while suing his neighbors. Literature ought to include everything, and it does at VES, where material ranges from the classics to modern best sellers to the students’ own lives and experiences.

Books help give you something to say, and they help you learn to say it well. The VES English program intensively promotes writing, whether in formal essays about literature or personal narratives. We believe that in reading we might discover the world; and in writing, we might reintroduce the world to itself.
  • English 9: Culture and Identity

    Prerequisites and/or Grade Levels to Which Course Is Open
    Open to 9th grade students, Prerequisites: None
    Focused on the theme of Culture and Identity, students in English 9 read literature from around the world, working to understand what makes different cultures distinctive and also to see the qualities of humanity that transcend place. Students learn to read, think and write with enthusiasm and skill, and develop scholarly habits in group discussions and team projects. This course asks students to strive to ask excellent questions, think critically about themes and literary devices and express their ideas with strong supporting evidence, clarity and style. By the end of the year, students will be on their way toward mastering the analytical essay and developing their authorial voice.

    Texts/Materials Used May Include:
    Tales from Ovid, translated by Ted Hughes (mythology)
    Big Fish, Daniel Wallace
    A play by William Shakespeare (different each year)
    Pygmalion, George Bernard Shaw
    Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe
    Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger
    The House on Mango Street, Sandra Cisneros
    Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan
    A variety of poems, short stories, essays and visual art – a robust vocabulary building website
  • English 10: Communities and Power

    Prerequisites and/or Grade Levels to Which Course Is Open
    Open to 10th grade students, Prerequisite: English 9
    Students will develop appreciation for how groups develop, thrive and sometimes falter through the close appreciation of literature. The class, centered around the theme of Communities and Power, explores the differences in varying community structures—the individuals, the insiders, the outsiders, the families, the leaders, the honorable, loyal and corrupt. Through a variety of novels, short stories, plays and poems, students explore the manifestations of power in their own writing and their own role in shaping and developing their communities, macro and micro.
    Texts/Materials Used
    Texts (including but not limited to)
    • Animal Farm by George Orwell
    • Antigone by Sophocles
    • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
    • A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry
    • Anthem by Ayn Rand
    • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
    • The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
  • American Writers

    Prerequisites and/or Grade Levels to Which Course Is Open
    Prerequisites: English 9 and 10; Open to 11th grade students and other grade levels with the apprpoval of the Department Chair
    American Writers explores the literature of the United States through the lens of a variety of literary and philosophical movements that occurred throughout the nation’s history, from the Enlightenment up to Post-Modernism. The essential questions students will attempt to answer over the course of the semester include:
    • How do you see yourself?
    • How do you see your world?
    • What is your journey?
    • How do writers and literary movements attempt to answer these questions?
    Students will hear from a wide variety of American voices, and write a number of response papers, which are a mix of analytical and personal. The summative project is an Autobiographical portfolio, in which students present their own answers to the above questions, including how their answers are influenced by and relate to American literary movements. This autobiography is then provided to college counseling.

    Texts/Materials Used
    • The Blind Side, Michael Lewis
    • The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne
    • A Streetcar Named Desire, Tennessee Williams
    • The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
    • Passing, Nella Larsen
    • The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien
    • 11th Grade Reader (collection of various handouts including excerpts from Franklin, Wheatley, Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman, Fuller, Poe, Stowe, Douglass, Jacobs, Crane, Chopin, Pound, WCW, and more)
  • AP English Language and Composition

    Prerequisites and/or Grade Levels to Which Course Is Open
    Open to 11th and 12th grade students who excelled in English 10;
    1. Support of the department and recommendation of the student’s current English teacher, which emphasizes the student’s demonstrated interest in reading and writing well
    2. Average grade of 90 or higher in the student’s current English class
    3. PSAT Evidence-Based Reading and Writing score of 550 or higher (or an equivalent score on the SAT, Pre-ACT, or ACT)
    4. Satisfactory writing sample
    5. Scores > 3 on any previous AP exams
    • Meet all criteria—Approved
    • Meet 4 of 5 criteria—Approval Likely
    • Meet 3 of 5 criteria—Approval Unlikely
    • Meet < 2 of 5 criteria—Not Approved
     AP Language and Composition prepares students for writing at the college level. Through extensive writing practice and reading of essays by professional writers, students will develop their own style and gain greater confidence in their ability to express themselves in writing. Students will learn various forms of composition: the definition essay, the descriptive essay, the narrative essay, the expository essay, the persuasive essay and the critical review. Students also will practice the college application essay. This course prepares students to take the AP Language and Composition exam. The primary objectives are for students to take joy in what they read and delight in what they write.
    Texts/Materials Used
    • Nobody’s Perfect, Anthony Lane
    • Speak, Memory, Vladimir Nabokov
    • Peter and Wendy, James Barrie
    • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll
    • Various articles and essays
  • English Rhetoric & Composition

    Prerequisites: AP English Language and Composition or American Writers
    English Rhetoric and Composition will consider arguments in everyday life. Students will begin by taking a close look at the media around them to understand that rhetoric is an underlying aspect of television shows, social media, comics, fiction, newspapers, magazines and movies. Selections for discussion may cover politics, history, science and other cross-curricular topics. Students will respond to these arguments by composing their own arguments through a variety of media. After identifying persuasion at work, students will study the types and composition of various types of arguments and use these methods to compose their own. Completion of this course will require a researched argument essay. This course will prepare students for college-level reading, response and essay compositions that make clear, well-reasoned arguments across disciplines.   
    Texts/Materials Used
    • Primary Text
      • Everything’s an Argument, Andrea A. Lunsford, John J. Ruszkiewicz, Keith Walters       
    • Fiction Selections
      • The Jungle, Upton Sinclair
      • Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut
      • 1984, George Orwell
      • The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood
    • Supplementary materials will include articles from newspapers, magazines and websites. 
  • Beat Generation in Poetry & Prose

    Prerequisite: American Writers or AP English Composition
    The Beat Generation was a social and literary movement in 1950s America. They sought to liberate poetry from academic preciosity and to convey the immediacy of experience in their prose. In this course, students will take on the role of a beatnik by reading, writing and creating in the style of the beat poets. Students will get to know the generation’s major players, explore their influences and consider their legacy. They will question the ways in which literature, music, exploration and religion can contribute to an enlightened sense of self.
    This interdisciplinary course allows students to create connections between literature, history, art, music and religion. Students will learn how to write what they know with passion, honesty and openness to develop their voice within their writing. Creative writing, paired with analytical and research components, contributes to seniors’ preparation for college-level humanities work.
    Texts/Materials Used
    • Texts
      • And the Hippos Were Boiled in their Tanks, Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs
      • Mountains and Rivers Without End, Gary Snyder
      • The Dharma Bums, Jack Kerouac
      • On the Road, Jack Kerouac
    • Selected Vignettes
      • Naked Lunch, William S. Burroughs
      • The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Tom Wolfe
    • Selected Poems
      • “Howl” and “Kaddish,” Allen Ginsberg
      • Song of Myself, Walt Whitman
      • Emily Dickinson
    • Films:
      • Kill Your Darlings
      • Pull My Daisy
    • Selected primary sources from music, recordings, newspaper articles, interviews, etc.
  • Book Design and Literature

    Prerequisites: Open primarily to 12th graders, with other grade levels
    enrolling with permission of the Department Chair

    Students enrolled in this course will become masters of a particular classic work of literature in the public domain (published before 1923). Examples include Peter Pan, Treasure Island, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Black Beauty, The Secret Garden, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and so forth. They will study this work intensely, demonstrating their knowledge through discussion, analysis, and written reflections. Afterward, students will conceive, design, and create a new edition of this book.

    Along the way, students will study many examples of iconic as well as esoteric book design and illustration. Postmodern novels and artist’s books will be analyzed closely for both literary and aesthetic merit as students consider the book as an artistic medium. Further study will include contemporary publishing houses such as MinaLima and Visual- Editions. The dynamic, intertextual relationship between visual artists and authors will be highlighted and studied throughout the year through critical essays, biographies, poetry, film, and images. Students will write and illustrate frequently, and in a wide-variety of genres, as they analyze and illuminate the texts they encounter. Class will also include field trips and guest speakers. This course will be limited to one section.

    Texts/Materials Used May Include:
    Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Jonathan Safran Foer
    What We See When We Read, Peter Mendelsund
    The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, Laurence Sterne
    Selected short stories
  • Narrative Journalism

    Stories are usually told in the past tense. But one of the things radio does better than any other medium is to intimately capture life as it unfolds. — Joe Richman. Thus, this project-based course will give students the tools to, in their own way, capture life as it unfolds. In this multimedia narrative journalism course, students will become voracious media consumers, analyzing print stories, podcasts, broadcasts, videos, documentaries and interactive social media. The classroom will operate as a professional space in which students become producers, immersed in the “real-life” environment of an audio production studio. They will pitch stories at “Editorial Meetings,” hone their interview skills, give feedback in “Listening/Viewing Labs,” develop analytical listening skills and refine their craft during work days. All this to address the questions: What principles of journalism apply across forms? What are their benefits and drawbacks? How do these modern media add to their expanding storytelling toolkit?
  • Classic Literature and Contemporary Adaptations

    Students will study classic literature and their equivalent modern adaptations in various different types of media. Students will learn literary analysis skills and apply these skills to literature and text. We will begin by reading the text and discussing themes and literary devices at work. Then, we will watch the modern film version and discuss these themes and literary devices again. After each unit, students will complete an analytical essay, a creative writing assignment, or a project based assignment. By the end of the course, students will have a lexicon for analysis of literature and media, they will recognize literary tropes, they will write creatively and analytically, and they will be able to draw connections between classic literature and modern adaptations.
  • AP English Literature and Composition

    1. Support of the department and recommendation of the student’s current English teacher, which emphasizes the student’s demonstrated interest in reading and writing well
    2. Average grade of 90 or higher in the student’s current English class
    3. PSAT Evidence-Based Reading and Writing score of 550 or higher (or an equivalent score on the SAT, Pre-ACT, or ACT)
    4. Satisfactory writing sample
    5. Scores > 3 on any previous AP exams
    • Meet all criteria—Approved
    • Meet 4 of 5 criteria—Approval Likely
    • Meet 3 of 5 criteria—Approval Unlikely
    • Meet < 2 of 5 criteria—Not Approved
    The primary goal of the Advanced Placement Literature and Composition class is to develop students’ abilities as independent readers and writers through a college-level course during their senior year. Advanced Placement English is both demanding and intellectually stimulating. It requires a student’s best effort consistently and puts emphasis upon developing independence of thought and mature habits of critical thinking. Classroom discussion and active participation are vital and serve as a means of testing ideas. Written assignments, both short and long, will be an important and frequent feature of the course. Selected pieces are both canonical and modern fiction and poetry, concentrating on learning to encounter new works and respond in an informed voice.
    Texts/Materials Used(including but not limited to)
    • Norton Introduction to Literature
    • Hamlet, William Shakespeare
    • Frankenstein, Mary Shelly
    • The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath
    • Billy Budd, Sailor, Herman Melville
    • A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving
    • Selected Poems
    • Selected Short Stories 

Department Staff

  • Brian Campbell

    James W. Hopkins Chair of English/English Teacher/Head Coach, Distance Track
    Bowdoin College - B.A.
    Dartmouth College - M.A.
  • Tatum Bell

    English Teacher/ Asst Coach of Varsity Field Hockey/ Asst Coach of Varsity Girls Lacrosse
    Yale University - B.A.
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  • Melissa Csatlos

    Academic Dean and Director of College Counseling/ English Teacher
    Hamilton College - B.A.
    University of Virginia - M.Ed.
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  • Jason Knebel

    English Teacher/Coach, Boys Soccer/ Advisor, Honor Committee
    Lenoir-Rhyne University - B.A.
    Western Carolina University - M.A.
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  • William Rhem

    English and Spanish Teacher/ Assistant Coach, Boys Soccer/Coach, JV Boys Basketball
    Wofford College - B.A.
    Middlebury College - M.A.
    Columbia University - M.Ed.
  • Margaret Tolmie

    English Teacher/ Coach, Soccer/ Advisor, Resident Assistants
    Washington and Lee University - B.A.
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  • Alison Tuck

    English Teacher/ Advisor, The Vestige/ Advisor, Drama
    Lynchburg College - B.A.
    Lynchburg College - M.A.
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A College Preparatory, Independent Boarding and Day School for Students in Grades 9-12
400 VES Road, Lynchburg, VA 24503 • 434.385.3600