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Amtrak Writing “Residencies”

Amtrak is trying something new. No, it didn’t turn a profit or decrease late arrivals. But it will begin offering writing “residencies” on selected long distance lines.

I love trains and wrote on how trains offer a “poetic” way to see the world [1] a couple of years ago for TAC, so naturally I think this is a great idea.

Details have not been released yet, but The Wire reports [2] that Amtrak will favor writers with a strong social media presence. Last night, Julia Quinn, Amtrak’s Director of Social Media, got on Reddit [3] to give a few more details and answer questions. Quinn noted that the company will set up on online application form soon and that “residents” will be selected by a panel of individuals “from Amtrak and the literary community.” Writers of all genres will be allowed to apply.

The idea for the residencies came about when novelist Alexander Chee told [4] PEN America that he loved writing on the train and wished “Amtrak had residencies for writers.” This made the rounds on Twitter and ended with Jessica Gross—who asked Amtrak on Twitter “How much momentum do we have to gain for this to become real”—doing a “test run” for the passenger rail service on its New York-Chicago line.

Gross traveled with her brother and wrote on the experience [5] at The Paris Review. “Writing requires a dip into the subconscious,” she writes, and a train provides a space that is both public and private. Moreover, there is a comfort in being surrounded by fellow travelers while “ensconced” in a sleeper cabin, where a writer can plumb her “secret desires” and “fantasies.” Gross also suggests that a number of writers like working on a train because it provides them with, in the words of critic Evan Smith Rakoff, “a set, uninterrupted deadline.”

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2 Comments To "Amtrak Writing “Residencies”"

#1 Comment By charles cosimano On March 7, 2014 @ 6:24 pm

“We were on dry land but the rocking of the train gave us all the excitement and terror of being in the middle of a hurricane in the north Atlantic. Clearly the roadbed was in need of some repair.”

I don’t think that is what Amtrack is looking for. 🙂

#2 Comment By philadelphialawyer On March 8, 2014 @ 6:04 am

I hate to be a Negative Nellie, and I know that 99 out of a hundred writers will just love this idea, but maybe Amatrack should focus more on, not so much making profit, but on, ya’ know, actually providing good, on time rail service, than giving free rides to “resident” writers.

Not for nothing either, but sleeper cabins are expensive, and it is pretty hard to write in a regular cabin, so Amtrack is going to be giving away its best, most lucrative seats just so some writer can indulge himself? With no requirement that any actual writing be done, nor that Amtrack gets anything out of it? Also, if a writer wants to book a sleeper cabin and do some writing, what is stopping him from doing so now, without a “residency” free ride? In addition, how is Amtrack going to choose which of the thousands of “writers” (and writers) should get the free ride? Merely saying a “panel” will choose doesn’t provide much guidance, or much assurance of fairness.

Beyond all that, I guess I don’t much like the government (which is what Amtrack is) or even a private corporation running special deals for “writers” or anyone else. You want to ride the train? Well then, er, get your ticket at the station and ride it like you find it. Whether you are a “writer” or not.