Why take courses in this discipline?

In Grinnell’s English curriculum students will read, analyze, discuss, and enjoy American, British, Irish, and postcolonial literature. They do intensive writing, with the chance to produce both creative and critical works. Students can study independently and travel abroad, such as on the Grinnell-in-London program, and connect with visiting authors and critics on campus. English majors go on to pursue advanced degrees or careers in fields such as education, journalism, law, public relations, or research.

How does this discipline contribute to the liberal arts?

Many of the courses in the English department involve communication/writing and creative expression as both objects of study and skills developed. Literature represents and interrogates human behavior and society. For nonnative speakers of English, courses provide opportunities for language study.

What kinds of questions are asked in this discipline?

The study of literature often involves discussions of important and controversial real-world issues. The foundation of literary study is close reading. The discipline has benefited from and contributed to various theoretical approaches, including feminism and gender studies, critical race studies, postcolonialism, psychoanalysis, and Marxism.

How does a student get started?

Students interested in English must first take a section on Literary Analysis (ENG 120) or Introduction to Shakespeare (ENG 121). The content of each ENG 120 section is determined by the professor, so students should read the course descriptions to determine which class to take. ENG 120 and 121 are typically offered every semester and they serve as prerequisites for 200- and 300-level classes in English.

Students majoring in English must also take one four-credit HUM or GLS course, or a four-credit literature course taught in another language department at the 200 level or above. Majors must also demonstrate at least introductory knowledge of a non-native language either by completing second-semester coursework in a non-native language or passing an examination at Grinnell that demonstrates equivalent competence.

AP/IB Credit

A score of 4 or 5 on the AP English language composition or English literature exam, or a score of 5 on the English literature or English language/literature IB exam, would count for four credits in the humanities division. Neither English literature or language AP nor IB work is equivalent to ENG 120 or 121. Students majoring in English must take one of these two intro courses in the department.

Courses in English

All Courses in English

Regularly Offered 200-Level Literature Courses

  • Traditions of English Literature
  • American Literary Traditions
  • Introduction to Postcolonial Literature
  • The Tradition of African American Literature
  • Ethnic American Literatures
  • English Historical Linguistics
  • Introduction to Literary Theory

Regularly Offered 200-Level Creative Writing/Craft Courses

  • The Craft of Poetry
  • The Craft of Fiction
  • The Craft of Creative Nonfiction
  • The Craft of Argument

Recent Seminars

  • Shakespeare, Milton
  • Whitman and Dickinson
  • The Victorians
  • Ulysses
  • Manifest Displacements: Piracy, Slavery and the Limits of Self Possession
  • Neuroliterature
  • Literary Theory
  • Screenwriting
  • Globalization and the Novel

Recent Special Topics

  • The Doctor as Writer
  • Baseball as Liberal Art: The Art of Fielding and the Craft of Reading
  • Lighting the Page: Digital Methods for Literary Studies
  • Screenwriting
  • The Graphic Novel
Sample Four-Year Plan for an English Major
Year Fall Spring

ENG 120 or ENG 121


HUM 101 or GLS



ENG 2XX in Early Lit group 


ENG 2XX in British/Postcolonial Lit group

ENG 2XX in American Lit group


ENG 2XX in Genre/Methods group

In the third and fourth years, students should continue 200-level courses with distribution in all groups and complete at least three 300-level seminars. This can easily be combined with a semester of off-campus study.

Off-Campus Study

Many English majors have studied in the Grinnell-in-London program. English courses taken at other institutions can count toward the major.

Contributions to Other Majors/Concentrations

Some courses in English contribute to the concentrations in:

For students interested in health professions, it is recommended that they take a literature course as preparation for graduate study.

Department Events and Opportunities

The English department organizes Writers@Grinnell and provides opportunities to interact with prominent novelists, poets, journalists, graphic novelists, and publishers. The English department sponsors writing contests for poetry, short stories, and critical essays. The Connelly Lecture is delivered by a distinguished guest working in the field of literary studies.

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