On September 9th, the English Department was treated to a fiction reading by award-winning author George Singleton. During her introduction, MFA Maggie Behringer noted that the world of Singleton’s fiction is not stranger than ours, “he just has better eyes.”
This statement proved true as Singleton took to the podium. Before even reading from his book, he entertained the crowd with playful tales of his publishing experiences. Singleton described the “breakup” between himself and his agent, mentioned the time an editor tried to change all of his “I only want”s to “I want only”s, and even included the story behind a recurring character, Stet Looper, whose name was a practical joke on his editors. (In editing, stet is used to inform typesetters and writers to disregard a change an editor had previously marked.)
With the crowd already laughing, Singleton went on to read “Vaccination,” a short-story from his collection Stray Decorum. “Vaccination” follows Edward Johnson, and his dog Tapeworm, on a bad date with a woman from the veterinarian’s office. True to form, the story was equally filled with moments of amusement and clarity.
Before the reading, Singleton had visited Professor Glenn Taylor’s graduate fiction workshop. Professor Taylor had the following to say about Singleton’s visit to Morgantown: “George’s visit was brief as a celestial streaking, but he filled it up nicely. He wrote down the names of all of my students in workshop and asked them where they were from, then told a story involving whatever place they gave. He met people on the street and carried on long conversations with them about their dogs or cigarette brand preferences. He explored Morgantown and took pictures of its hills and bridges, and he sang songs by the Pogues at 2 in the morning, his arm around a stranger who sang right along with him. George is one of a kind, and we are lucky to have had him.”
As the reading drew to a close, Singleton advised all students present to remember the importance of community in the writing world. “You should all remember that we’re all in this together. When one person wins, you all win. Especially in a workshop, because you’ve all worked on everyone’s stories, so you’ve helped make that.” A wonderful ending to a memorable reading.
In case you missed it, the audio of this reading is available at WVU’s Center for Literary Computing.
George Singleton, who holds the John C. Cobb Chair in Humanities at Wofford College, has published six collections of stories, two novels, and a book of writing advice. His next collection, Calloustown, will be published in November 2015. Over 200 of his stories have appeared in magazines such as the Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, Book, Playboy, Zoetrope, Georgia Review, Southern Review and elsewhere. His work has been anthologized in ten issues of New Stories of the Souththe Year’s Best, and in a number of other anthologies as varied as Best Food Writing 2005 and Dog is My Co-Pilot. Essays about his work have appeared in Still in Print and Behind the Short Story, among other books. His nonfiction has appeared in Oxford American, Garden and Gun, Bark, and elsewhere. Singleton received a 2009-10 Guggenheim fellowship, a 2011 Hillsdale Award from the Fellowship of Southern Writers, and was inducted into the South Carolina Academy of Authors in 2010. The Atlantic Journal-Constitution labeled him “the unchallenged king of the comic southern short story.”