What Our Seniors Are Reading

Quicksand by Nella Larsen

The senior exhibition process in AS English 4 marks the culmination of four years of dedicated study for students. In this crucial phase, sixth form English teachers present a diverse array of books, allowing students to select works that resonate with them. As outlined in our current course catalog, students meticulously choose a piece of literature from a curated list of exhibition books. The journey involves in-depth exploration through multiple readings, crafting critical questions, and engaging in the iterative process of writing and rewriting. Throughout this project, students hone their ability to develop a critical argument, working tirelessly to refine and enhance their perspectives—skills that mirror the rigorous demands of college-level literature analysis.

Past selections for this enriching experience have included powerful titles such as Toni Morrison's "Beloved," Junot Diaz's "The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao," Ian McEwan's "Atonement," Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood," Ta-Nehisi Coates's "Between the World and Me," Tim O’Brien's "The Known World," Isabel Allende's "The House of the Spirits," and Virginia Woolf's "To the Lighthouse."

The project has undergone a bit of a transformation, placing a renewed emphasis on novellas. Among the captivating novellas chosen by the English department is Nella Larsen's "Quicksand." Published in 1928, this literary gem stands as Larsen's debut work. The author's own multicultural heritage adds a layer of relevance to the narrative, making "Quicksand" a compelling choice for exploration in the senior exhibition. "Although the drafting process involves frequent meetings with the instructor, the project is essentially independent and culminates in a 45-minute oral exhibition in which students assess, discuss, and refine their papers in a critique with at least two members of the English Department."

Grayson Culliford '24, explains how she went about choosing Quicksand as her exhibition book, "As someone interested in feminism, it was recommended by my teacher, Dr. Pitts, that I read the short novella, Quicksand, by Nella Larsen. I was pulled into Larsen’s intentionally descriptive vernacular and thoughtful depiction of the protagonist, Helga, a biracial woman who is uncertain of her racial, sexual, and gender identities. Larsen’s use of juxtaposing settings and highlighting of societal expectations through symbols and metaphors speaks to the larger message of identity and womanhood. Overall, I am excited to write my paper and will investigate how Helga navigates the internal conflict she experiences."

Wishing the Class of 2024 all the best as they are about to engage in this exhilarating process!