By Laura Corbin
For the Herald-Journal
Published: March 24, 2013
Author George Singleton thinks a good sense of humor is important in life, and he hopes that's something his students at Wofford College will learn from him when he begins teaching fiction writing this fall as the new holder of the John C. Cobb Endowed Chair in the Humanities.
Singleton is a Southern author who has written several collections of short stories and three novels. His latest title, “Stray Decorum,” his fifth book of short stories, was published in September.
“In what they read and write, I want students to understand that it's good to have a big heart and an open mind, and fiction teaches that more than nonfiction,” Singleton says of what he wants to bring to the classroom. “And, I hope they have fun.”
Singleton comes to Wofford from the S.C. Governor's School for the Arts and Humanities in Greenville, where he has taught fiction writing and editing for 13 years. He has been a visiting writer at the University of South Carolina, the University of North Carolina Wilmington and other colleges, and has taught at Francis Marion College and the Fine Arts Center in Greenville, a magnet school.
“I love teaching high school (at the Governor's School), but I'm looking forward to college-age students in writing and English, many of whom will be taking more ‘concrete' courses and go on to be lawyers or doctors,” he says. “I'll be trying to teach them that in dealing with patients or clients, they will be more able to communicate with what they learn in English classes, reading novels and short stories. They will be more well-rounded people and have better relationships.”
David S. Wood, senior vice president for academic affairs and dean of the college, says, “We are delighted to have such a noted writer in George Singleton joining us as our new Cobb Chair for the Humanities, replacing Betsy Cox, who is retiring at the end of the academic year. Betsy and her husband, Mike Curtis, have held the chair jointly and have been wonderful. We are grateful that Mike will continue with us, assuming the role of professor of English.
“George is a distinguished writer whose record of achievement is well-noted,” Wood said, “but what may be less well known is that he is an equally outstanding classroom teacher. We know our students and the entire community will benefit from having him among us.”
Deno Trakas, chairman of the Department of English and the Hoy Professor of Literature, writes, “We're excited to have George join us for many reasons. He's one of the best short-story writers in the country (read any of his five collections); he's one of the best teachers of fiction in the country (talk to any of his prize-winning students); he's one of the most disciplined writers in the country (he doesn't just say he writes every day, he actually writes every day); he's funny (read anything he's written); he loves dogs and has taken in so many strays that he had to write a book about them; and he's looking forward to moving to Spartanburg, where he's going to make a lot of new friends.”
Singleton says he jumped at the chance to teach at Wofford.
“I was easily sold on the opportunity to teach a fiction workshop, and teaching undergraduates, I will have more leeway here and it will be more exciting for me,” he says.
Singleton wants his students to treat him as an equal.
“I tend to be sarcastic, and I expect them to be sarcastic back at me. I'm not going to try to hurt their feelings, but I will be honest and truthful in my critiques. They have to be a little bit tough to take criticism. It's all for their best.”
He hopes some of them make a breakthrough in writing.
“I want to see them do well. It's tough being a writer. You have to make a 10-year bet with yourself. Now that self-publishing is more prominent, it's easier. Becoming a good writer is like treasure hunting, though. I'll be as excited for them as I am when I have good fortune. It's a team; everybody wins.”
To be successful writers, he says, one must “keep trying to write better, to write the perfect story. It's like being an athlete — at the end of the year, you're better if you've been running every day for that year. Maybe it's cold or you have sprained muscles, but you keep running.
“With writing, you keep writing, and you're better after a year. If you just run, or write, one day and didn't do it every day, after a year you're no better; you're probably worse.”
Singleton, a native of Anaheim, Calif., grew up in Greenwood and is a 1980 graduate of Furman University. He holds a Master of Fine Arts from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. In 2009, he was a Guggenheim Fellow, and in 2011 he was awarded the Hillsdale Award for Fiction by the Fellowship of Southern Writers.
His other works include: “These People Are Us: Stories,” “The Half-Mammals of Dixie,” “Why Dogs Chase Cars: Tales of a Beleaguered Boyhood,” “Novel,” “Drowning in Gruel,” “Work Shirts for Madmen,” and “Pep Talks, Warnings, and Screeds: Indispensable Wisdom and Cautionary Advice for Writers.”
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