In the Winter in Fairbanks, Even the Light Comes Late to Class

Nicole Stellon O'Donnell

On Monday in December the sun rises at 10:40. Red sky. Black clouds.Among all the slouched backs, curved necks, and notebook-scrawling hands,only one student notices, a girl, the one writing about the room in whichher mother died. She says, I have never seen a sunrise like that, and twenty-eightother heads look up from their pens and notebooks. I had never and willnever again read a description of a hospital bed like the one she was writingat that moment. Years later, she will email to ask if I have that piece she wroteabout her mother, and I will have to tell her I don’t. But this morning, neitherof us can foresee this future small grief. So I stop class while all twenty-nineline up at the windows to watch the light. Fifty-eight eyes open out ontosnow, the parking lot, the shovel-scraped sidewalk, red brake lights, dullfrosted stop signs. Red sky and burnt clouds. This morning, deep winter,sunrise comes, hours late, long after the tardy bell and without excuse.

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Nicole Stellon O’Donnell’s first collection, Steam Laundry (Boreal Books, 2012), won the Willa Award for Poetry. Her writing has appeared in Prairie Schooner, Brevity, Passages North, Beloit Poetry Journal, The Women’s Review of Books, Zyzzyva, and other journals. She has received fellowships from the Rasmuson Foundation and Alaska Arts and Culture Foundation, and in 2016 she won an Alaska Literary Award. In the past, she spent a semester in India on a Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching. Currently, she teaches language arts at a public school housed inside a youth facility in Fairbanks, Alaska.

A deeply compelling portrait of our educational system from the bottom up and the inside out, You Are No Longer in Trouble, is a collection of prose poems and flash essays. Part memoir and part investigation into the educational system, this compelling linked series explores the connections between one teacher’s family history, her experience of being a student, and the persona she has to wear in the classroom.

"You Are No Longer In Trouble is one of the best books I read in a long, long time. It’s for anyone who has ever been in school, as student or teacher, administrator or aide. It’s for every being working so hard to be good or do better in this mysterious world. It’s for people with excellent memories and people who forget too much. An extremely evocative, superbly written, deep dive into classrooms, hallways, and the precious human heart."
—Naomi Shihab Nye

"Nicole Stellon O’Donnell’s startling and capacious collection, You Are No Longer in Trouble, telescopes between late-seventies suburban Chicago and contemporary Alaska. Student becomes teacher; daughter becomes mother. These shifting identities organically engage issues of place, the gendered body, and the economy of labor…. Deft with the prose poem form, O’Donnell’s lines can be a choppy, roiling surf, or become inviting and even languorous, but always with a potent undertow. This book gives me a new understanding of the attentions and estrangements prescribed by America’s approach to schooling. More importantly, this book has a rich, complicated heart."
—Sandra Beasley

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