Latin American literature came into prominence during the 1960’s owing to the work of many translators and scholars, and among the first was Donald A. Yates. He mentored aspiring writers, especially from Argentina, translated their works, and introduced them to publishers and editors in the US. He continued as a literary matchmaker until his death on October 17, 2017, at his home in Deer Park.
Born in Ayer, MA, in 1930, he moved with his family to Ann Arbor, MI, in 1936. He became a passionate fan of the University of Michigan Wolverines (Go Blue!), and by 1943, a devoted admirer of the detective story, owing to the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Ellery Queen.
Mystery fiction would shape much of Don’s academic and private life. Labyrinths was his first contribution to Latin American letters and inspired by a detective story, “The Garden of Forking Paths” by the Argentine Jorge Luis Borges. Don co-edited and translated the first English-language collection of Borges’s work with his colleague James Irby, Professor Emeritus, Yale. Published in 1962 by New Directions, Labyrinths would change the art storytelling, as well as the stories themselves.
Don’s academic career spanned 26 years at Michigan State University (his BA, MA, and PhD were awarded from the University of Michigan). Argentina became his second home, where he lived with his family, taught classes as a Fulbright Scholar, and cultivated lasting friendships with writers, artists, playwrights and poets. It was a fantastic place, too, where he said the Andes went to die at the end of the world, and its snows turned into the great wines of Mendoza.
Throughout his life, Don collected mystery fiction, published his own stories and poetry, and was a dedicated Sherlockian. In 1960 he was invested as “Mr. Melas” by the Baker Street Irregulars, a literary society in New York City. After moving to California in 1982, he founded the Napa Valley Napoleons of S.H. One of his greatest pleasures was giving people books, whether as prizes for Sherlock Holmes meetings, or like his friend and newspaperman, Vincent Starrett, because some books and people deserved each other’s good company.
Don helped to shepherd six children, imparting a sense of decency, a respect for language, and the importance of competitive, fair play. (His kids still play card games that that he taught them 50 years ago.) He biked, hiked, swam with them; challenged them at tennis and golf; and introduced them (and most of Buenos Aires) to the Frisbee.
His wife Joanne of 40 years was with him when he died, as were his devoted 4-legged campanions Rudy and Sandy. Don is survived by his sister, Barbara Flewelling; his children from his first marriage, Brian and Juliet Yates; and by his stepchildren and children from the second, Laurie, Matthew, and Robin Taylor, and John Yates. He was very proud of his many grandchildren who are doing remarkable things in the world, and his great-grandchild Jovie who will be joined by a sister next year.
Instead of flowers, he would be honored if friends and family donated to Michigan State University for his endowment to support Latin American studies,
c/o Seth Martin (7), 366 West Circle Drive, East Lansing, MI 48824; or to 4Paws, 5800 Commerce Blvd., Rohnert Park, CA 94928.