Amtrak has started a “writers’ residencies” program that would allow free rides for writers on long-term train rides. The first such residency went to Jessica Gross, who wrote about her experience in the Paris Review.
I am in a little sleeper cabin on a train to Chicago. Framing the window are two plush seats; between them is a small table that you can slide up and out. Its top is a chessboard. Next to one of the chairs is a seat whose top flips up to reveal a toilet, and above that is a “Folding Sink”—something like a Murphy bed with a spigot. There are little cups, little towels, a tiny bar of soap. A sliding door pulls closed and locks with a latch; you can draw the curtains, as I have done, over the two windows pointing out to the corridor. The room is 3’6” by 6’8”. It is efficient and quaint. I am ensconced.
I’m only here for the journey. Soon after I get to Chicago, I’ll board a train and come right back to New York: thirty-nine hours in transit—forty-four, with delays. And I’m here to write: I owe this trip to Alexander Chee, who said in his PEN Ten interview that his favorite place to work was on the train. “I wish Amtrak had residencies for writers,” he said. I did, too, so I tweeted as much, as did a number of other writers; Amtrak got involved and ended up offering me a writers’ residency “test run.” (Disclaimer disclaimed: the trip was free.)
So here I am.
The Wire has many more details about how the program started and how it might work in the future. It’s worth noting the number of residencies are limited, but I think this is a great idea. Personally, my best writing* is done when I am completely alone, and I can imagine beautiful scenery might help spur the imagination.
What do you think? Is this good advertising for Amtrak or a waste of funds for an agency deeply in debt?
*Though I’ve never had anything more than a short story published.