- Sandy & Wayne: A Novella (2016)
- The Teeth of the Souls (2015)
- Some Kinds of Love: Stories (2013)
- Morkan’s Quarry (2010)
Steve Yates was born in 1968 and grew up in Springfield, Missouri. His mother is Joy Evertz Yates and his father Carl Yates. He has two sisters, Julie Catherine Edith, and Nicole Marie. From the age of eleven, Yates has had a paying job, working first as an errand boy for the law firm of Yates, Mauck, Robinett, and Bohrer. At sixteen, while attending Glendale High School, he worked at the News-Leader in Springfield as a sports writer. He obtained his undergraduate degree at Missouri State and an MFA degree in creative writing from the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, where for three summers he surveyed highways and did construction inspection for the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department. He surveyed abandoned quarries, inspected cement pours, concrete plants, and roadways as they were blasted and excavated through the nearby Boston Mountains, an experience that proved useful when he was writing his first novel, Morkan’s Quarry. He now lives in Flowood, Mississippi, with his wife, Tammy Gebhart Yates, whom he married in 1991. He and his wife have now lived in Mississippi since 1998.
To date, Yates has published three books: a novel entitled Morkan’s Quarry, published by Moon City Press in 2010; Some Kinds of Love: Stories, published in 2013 by the University of Massachusetts Press; and The Teeth of the Souls, published in 2015 by Moon City Press. Seattle’s Dock Street Press will publish Sandy & Wayne: A Novella in 2016.
Yates’s first novel, Morkan’s Quarry, is set during and after the Civil War in Springfield, Missouri. The story revolves around Michael Morkan, an Irish Catholic immigrant who becomes labeled a rebel traitor when he is forced to give his hidden black powder to the Missouri State Guard. He is imprisoned in St. Louis. His son Leighton joins the Federal Home Guards and manages to free his father, and together they struggle to reclaim their quarry and their good name. An excerpt of the novel was a finalist for the Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society William Faulkner/ Wisdom Award for Best Novella. In the 1990’s, while researching Morkan’s Quarry, Yates himself converted to Catholicism and went through RCIA and baptism at Easter Vigil Mass, reclaiming in a sense his own German Catholic ancestry.
His second book, a collection of short stories titled Some Kinds of Love: Stories won the 2012 Juniper Prize for fiction, awarded by the University of Massachusetts Press for an outstanding work of literary fiction. It is a collection of twelve stories written and published between 1990 and 2012. Seven of the stories are set in the Ozarks, near Springfield, Missouri, but two are set in Jackson, Mississippi; one in Port Gibson, Mississippi; and one in West Point, Mississippi. Another is set in New Orleans.
Yates’s third book, a novel entitled The Teeth of the Souls, is a sequel to Morkan’s Quarry and is set in post-Civil War to early twentieth century Missouri. Yates, in an interview with fiction and history online, stated that the novel “has a jarring, grief-filled recollection.” Both novels are, according to Yates, very much inspired and informed by Ozark history. The title comes from what the character Judith calls Leighton’s limestone, The Teeth of the Souls.
One of his short stories, set in West Point, Mississippi, Report on Performance Art in One Province of the Empire Especially in Regard to Three Exhibitions Involving Swine, was named among the 100 Distinguished Stories of 2009 by Richard Russo and the editors of Best American Short Stories. TriQuarterly, Southwest Review, Turnstile, Western Humanities Review, and many other journals have also published Yates’s short stories. Yates was the inaugural winner of Big Fiction Magazine’s Knickerbocker Prize in 2013 for his novella Sandy and Wayne, a love story set in the Arkansas Ozarks on the interstate as it was being between Fayetteville and Fort Smith. The novella will be published as its own standalone book by Dock Street Press of Seattle in January 2016. Yates has also been the recipient of two fellowships from the Mississippi Arts Commission and one from the Arkansas Arts Council.
Curiosity’s Cats: Writers on Research (Minnesota Historical Society Press), a 2014 CHOICE Outstanding Academic Book, contains a long essay by Yates about the research he did to write Morkan’s Quarry and The Teeth of the Souls.
Yates is currently working on two novels. One is set in the Ozarks and involves an Irish Catholic family whose estate becomes plagued by a maddening, nonsensical local tale, The Legend of the Albino Farm. The second is set in Jackson, Mississippi, and in it the owner of the failing Studebaker-Packard dealership is vexed when his wife insists on joining the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission.
Currently, Yates is assistant director/marketing director at the University Press of Mississippi in Jackson where he has been since 1998. Previously he worked at the University of Arkansas Press and, while on a Whiting Fellowship, he worked a week at New York University Press. He writes in the early morning and on his lunch hour, but during the day, his job is to champion other writers, visiting bookstores and booksellers as the marketing director at the University Press.
A Review of The Teeth of the Souls by Jamie Kornegay (Used by permission)
“Your life’s been a lie you didn’t even know you was telling,” one character tells another near the end of Steve Yates’s new novel, The Teeth of the Souls. It’s a tense moment, after decades of lives and secrets have reeled and passed in a flurry of turning pages. There’s something deeply rewarding when a novel can captivate us with imagined lives, condensing years into pages, making memories as rich as our own. They’re all lies, these stories, but the best of them we hold in our hearts like truth.
Such is the great achievement of Yates, a Missouri native who lives in Jackson and is marketing director at the University Press of Mississippi. His third book is the fictional saga of Leighton Morkan, son of an Irish immigrant and heir to a limestone quarry in the village of Galway, Missouri, near Springfield.
Fair disclosure: this is the follow-up to Yates’s first novel, Morkan’s Quarry, the story of Leighton’s father and the settlement of this Missouri backwater. You needn’t have read it to fully appreciate The Teeth of the Souls, though you’ll likely be eager to go back later and indulge in more of the author’s imaginative storytelling and creamy rich prose.
The new novel begins after the Civil War. Leighton, who fought with the Union, is putting the scraps of his father’s legacy back together, but nothing like victory stands in this ravaged, disordered corner of the Ozarks.
In an attempt to collect on a spoiled debt, Leighton contracts with a busted German banker named Weitzer to wed his 14-year-old daughter, Patricia, a tall, slim, complex young woman wise beyond her years. Her dowry is a tract of adjacent land that will add to Leighton’s holdings and insure his quarry’s profitability.
The arrangement complicates matters with Leighton’s best friend, Judith, the slave girl who helped raised him. “So you done gone marry that land over yonder?” she chastises him in her customary spitfire manner. An intriguing triangle develops among the three when Judith stays on as servant after Patricia’s arrival.
Until the new quarry is developed, Leighton must bring his finances in line and thus, going against his late father’s wishes to pay a living wage to workers, brings freedmen in to cut stone at a fraction of white men’s wages. This cost-saving venture makes him a hero among the out-of-work black population but riles white businessmen. Later, he aligns with the whites to form a masked vigilante squad called the Gentlemen’s Defense League, who ride under the cover of night, stringing up horse thieves and reestablishing order in their burgeoning city.
As an epic of early twentieth century progress and change, Yates’s book has the heft and atmosphere of those great novels from the period, with a lustiness and fleet regard for the modern reader, calling to mind a recent favorite, Ron Rash’s Serena, which finds an equal here. Like Rash, Yates can pass easily between the rugged and elegant. This facility is evident in his resplendent prose, which lavishes but never belabors, giving industrial metaphor — a katydid chirps “like a chain straining in a hoist,” while Leighton’s accountant, trussed up in prosthetics from his war injuries, is “an unholy contraption daily manufactured” — as easy as suppler comparisons — a woman’s shoulders are composed of “long, thin bones arranged like the struts of an exotic kite,” and the whiskey “smelled like autumn sunshine.”
The characters too are expertly drafted, moving with grand and organic purpose, like figures from history, speaking a poetry of inspired dialogue. “Sometimes I feel I have inside me a famous soul from a thousand years ago,” says Patricia, rubbing her pregnant belly, and then later laments, “The mind can talk the heart through acres of male weakness.”
And while it is most definitely a story of a time and place, the novel is, at its walloping heart, a romance and a tragedy, both tender and tough in its depiction of a lifelong quest for love in the wake of a convenient marriage and the painful repercussions of indiscretion.
Like the sturdy, ornate architecture of its age, The Teeth of the Souls was built with a craftsman’s patience and exacting, its components forged from the finest material. A thing of integrity, built to last.
- Recent interview with Yates in Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette
- Amazon page for Morkan’s Quarry here.
- Interview with Steve Yates on fiction and history online
- Q&A with the author of The Teeth of the Souls from Moon City Press
- Q&A with the inaugural Knickerbocker Prize winner
- Words & Music online article about Steve Yates, author of Civil War novel Morkan’s Quarry by Shari Stauch
- The Clarion-Ledger’s Jana Hoops interviews Steve Yates
- Review of The Teeth of the Souls by Jamie Kornegay, Clarion-Ledger, Jackson
- Video of Steve Yates reading from his novel at Eudora Welty house