Master of Metaphors: Springfield Native Steve Yates To Be OPWC Featured Writer for March

Master of Metaphors: Springfield Native Steve Yates To Be OPWC Featured Writer for March
Courtesy Photo Steve Yates

Courtesy Photo
Steve Yates

Steve Yates knows how to write a metaphor. Here’s one of his best: “When you have a book out, you aren’t just burning the candle at both ends. You’ve chucked the whole candle right into the bonfire.”

Yates will be the featured writer at the Ozarks Poets and Writers Collective’s monthly program, 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 31, at Nightbird Books on West Dickson Street in Fayetteville. The event is free, though donations are welcome, and the public is invited to attend.

Yates, a native of Springfield, Mo., was born in 1968 and was educated at Southwest Missouri State — now Missouri State — where he received a B.A. in English literature and philosophy in 1986. He is also an M.F.A. graduate, in 1994, from the prestigious Programs in Creative Writing and Translation at the University of Arkansas.

He now holds down the job he loves, as marketing director (and overall assistant director) at the University Press of Mississippi, in Jackson. That’s his day job, 50 hours a week, he tells me, with much travel, mainly covering the dozens and dozens of small indie bookstores in Mississippi. His night job — or should I say his early-morning job? — is writing, which he arises at 3 a.m. to do.

This early-morning dedication has produced notable success. Short pieces in any number of literary publications, the well-received novel Morkan’s Quarry, a full-length book of short stories titled Some Kinds of Love and, now, the sequel to Morkan’s Quarry called The Teeth of the Souls.

In fact, the March OPWC event will be one of two launches of The Teeth of the Souls, the other taking place in Springfield.

Morkan’s Quarry and its sequel are set in Southwest Missouri during the second half of the 19th century, reaching into the early 20th century. The first book tells of the Springfield area being ripped apart by the Civil War — by both sides of the Civil War. Plus, there are several utterly devastating scenes of conditions in a St. Louis prison where the elder Morkan is sent after selling some blasting powder to an army of the wrong side.

The second book continues the story, now of the post-war period, through the lives of the younger Morkan and two women who are important in his life. These books will be for sale at Nightbird on the 31st, and, of course, the author will be there for the signing of them.

Yates’ new work, now in its fifth draft is, again, historical fiction — “slow-food reportage,” he calls it, another nice metaphor — set, again, in Southwest Missouri, now in the second half of the 20th century. This story — as yet untitled — is not another sequel; we are not talking about a trilogy here. Rather it follows what he calls “a crazy story from Springfield,” details to await that book’s publication.

His roots, you can see, run deep into the limestone of the Springfield area. In fact, the title of the just-released book, The Teeth of the Souls, is another nice allusion to the limestone formations of the area he loves. (Yates, a student of sorts of spiritual issues, is willing to debate all comers as to whether souls in fact have teeth.) And his interest in quarries dates, oddly enough, to the summers during his MFA years when he worked for the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department, which sent him far and wide, exploring various properties with limestone formations in the Ozarks. He started writing both the original story and its sequel in ’94, at the end of his MFA studies and, one senses, is happy to put the matter to rest with the publication of the both.

Before and after Yates’ reading on the 31st, there will be an open microphone for members of the community to each share four minutes of prose, poetry, memoir or what-have-you with an appreciative and supportive audience. All are welcome, but children and the thin-skinned might enjoy other events that night.

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