On March 14 at 7 p.m., a single podium stood front and center, surrounded by rows of chairs neatly lined up in a dimly lit room in the back of Scuppernong Books.
Appropriate for the upcoming event, the shelves were filled with an endless array of everything from novels to biographies to stationary, all of which supplied the backdrop for the immensely talented and unwaveringly comedic short story author George Singleton as he took center stage at the podium to read from his latest collection of short stories, “Staff Picks.”
Before the clock struck 7 p.m., George Singleton – at first, just another face in the crowd – soon became the most important individual in the room. With every carefully selected seat came another audience member pining for Singleton’s humble and unassuming attention. Thus, George Singleton made his way to each person – an old college friend, various members of his community – and took his time catching up.
When it came time to officially begin the reading of “Staff Picks,” a Scuppernong employee made a few statements about upcoming events, including the Greensboro Bound Literary Festival, happening May 17 through 19. Then he went on to welcome Richard Moriarty from the UNC Greensboro M.F.A. Program to introduce Singleton.
“His work cannot be defined as strictly comic or strictly southern. That being said, he is undeniably funny. In his stories, lifelong partnerships and torrid love affairs can begin during electricians visits and radio show contests to win RVs…” stated Moriarty.
Raised in South Carolina and a graduate of UNC Greensboro’s MFA program, it cannot be overlooked that George Singleton’s hilarity is largely influenced by his own southern roots.
Despite this, Moriarty brought attention to more than just Singleton’s roots. “If you dig beneath the surface of any of one of the thirteen stories that comprise “Staff Picks,” you’ll discover qualities of short fiction that transcend genre and region. These stories have the power to move readers and to make us think, perhaps when we least expect it. One story that opens at a poker table becomes an exploration of an aging man’s struggles with his loss of memory, the absence of his wife and the heavy guilt of his infidelity….”
Once George Singleton finally took the podium, he began with a simple “Hey ya’ll, it’s good to be back home.” From the start, with a casual demeanor, George Singleton instantly had the crowd laughing, an obvious sign of his comedic talent.
Singleton admitted his thought process for creating such a title as “Staff Picks,” thinking, “What the hell man, no one’s buying short stories… if I have a book called ‘Staff Picks,’ maybe people will just be wandering around in a bookstore [and think] it must be good!”
He began his reading with “Four Way Stop,” a short story that begins with a humorous look at biblical trick or treaters on Halloween night, but turns into a sort of reflection on something much more existential.
Throughout his readings, there was admittedly a deep dive past the surface of his comedy that confronts something a bit more challenging to swallow. Perhaps that is why his humor is necessary, and also why there was not a single frown in the crowd.
George Singleton’s non-nonchalant attitude can easily disguise his well deserved accomplishments. He has been given a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Pushcart Prize, the Hillsdale Award from the Fellowship of Southern Writers, along with the John Corrington Award for Literary Excellence.
His writings have been published in several magazines, including Harper’s, Playboy and the Atlantic Monthly. Singleton currently holds the John C. Cobb Chair in Humanities at Wofford College.
If you are a big fan of short stories, be sure to check out George Singleton’s short stories “Staff Picks.”