Short story writer, novelist, educator. Born in Anaheim, California, on May 13, 1958, and raised in Greenwood, South Carolina, Singleton graduated from Furman University in 1980 with a degree in philosophy. He earned an M.F.A. degree from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in 1986. Singleton taught fiction writing and editing at the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities for thirteen years. He currently lives in Spartanburg, South Carolina, with the clay artist Glenda Guion and teaches at Wofford College where he holds the John C. Cobb Endowed Chair. Singleton was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2009 and in 2011 received the Hillsdale Award for Fiction from the Fellowship of Southern Writers. He has published more than a hundred short stories, many of them appearing in major literary and commercial magazines such as the Georgia Review and Atlantic Monthly; his work has been anthologized in multiple editions of New Stories from the South.
In a 2006 interview Singleton recalled his beginnings as a writer in the late 1970s, his decision in the 1980s to focus primarily on the short story form, and his slow but sure path to national prominence as a southern writer: “I plowed on until I found a voice, and understood that I would try to write about how the saddest moments can be the funniest.” Certainly that distinctive voice is a key element in Singleton’s first published collection of short stories, These People Are Us: Stories (River City Press, 2001). These fourteen works of short fiction, all written in first person and set in the South, strike a unique balance between things tragic and things comic as the two intertwine in the lives of Singleton’s singularly southern characters.
With The Half-Mammals of Dixie (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2002), Singleton introduces readers to the fictional town of Forty-Five, South Carolina. This collection of fifteen tales, most written in first person and all linked by setting and theme, firmly establishes Singleton as a master of the tragicomic short story. In addition to the town of Forty-Five, it is in The Half-Mammals of Dixie that the character of Mendal Dawes makes his first appearance in the masterful “Show and Tell.” The story, which first appeared in the Atlantic Monthly and was later anthologized in New Stories from the South, is narrated by nine-year-old Mendal, who gets caught up in his “widower” father’s efforts to seduce his third-grade teacher.
Why Dogs Chase Cars: Tales of a Beleaguered Boyhood (Algonquin Books, 2004: reissued with a new introduction by USC Press, 2013) is a tightly knit short story cycle comprised of fourteen interconnected tales with a shared first-person narrator. The story cycle chronicles the life of Mendal Dawes, the narrator of “Show and Tell” in The Half-Mammals of Dixie, who wants most of all to get out of Forty-Five, South Carolina. This collection is particularly interesting not only because of the close connections among the stories that make it up but also because of its linkages of setting and character and theme with Singleton’s previous book.
Novel (Harcourt, 2005) marks Singleton’s debut with the novel form. Set in the fictional town of Gruel, South Carolina, Novel tells the uproariously funny story of a professional snake-handler named Novel (his brother and sister are named James and Joyce) who sets out to write his autobiography. While struggling to capture—and to come to terms with—his own story, Novel uncovers a dangerous and disturbing secret about the town of Gruel.
In the nineteen stories in Drowning in Gruel (Harcourt, 2006), Singleton returns to the fictional setting of Gruel, South Carolina. As was the case with The Half-Mammals of Dixie and Why Dogs Chase Cars, both Novel and Drowning in Gruel are directly linked through shared setting and characters and themes. The publication of Drowning in Gruel makes it clear that Singleton, in the tradition of Faulkner and Balzac, is creating a fictional world of his own.
The picaresque and hilarious Work Shirts for Madmen (Harcourt, 2007) marks Singleton’s second foray into the novel form. The plot follows the struggles of the protagonist, Harp Spillman, to give up drinking and rehabilitate his career as an avant-garde metal sculptor by welding twelve angels out of hex nuts with the help of the Elbow Boys and his devoted wife Raylou.
With Pep Talks, Warnings, and Screeds: Indispensable Wisdom and Cautionary Advice for Writers (Writers Digest Books, 2008), Singleton tackles the genre of nonfiction. These practical lessons on writing take the form of aphorisms, pep talks, and a few rants, with color illustrations by novelist Daniel Wallace.
Stray Decorum (Dzanc Books, 2012) is Singleton’s latest book. With these eleven stories that share settings and characters and revolve around a theme of “strays,” the author returns to the short story cycle form. Although not as tightly linked as the fictional pieces in Why Dogs Chase Cars, the interconnected narratives in Stray Decorum further expand the hilarious, heartbreaking, and absolutely original fictional world created by George Singleton, and once again show why he has become one of the premier short story writers of his generation.
Giraldi, William. “A Holy Impropriety: The Stories of George Singleton.” Georgia Review 64.4 (2010): 619–627.
Kiem, Elizabeth. “A Novelist in Spite of Himself: A Profile of George Singleton.” Poets & Writers Magazine 33.4 (2005): 42–47.