Great stories have been born during the numerous journeys that writers have taken. Novelists have drawn their inspiration from the scenery that passes them by on trains, in planes, on ships, etc. Now Amtrak is hoping to reignite the passion for train journeys by offering writers a longer-term berth on its long distance trains.
The first train-based Authors’ Residency Program is preparing to leave the station. As reported on Amtrak’s official blog, two dozen recipients of its residency awards will be sent on a long-distance trip where the romance of an aging transportation system with an illustrious history, will hopefully inspire them to create beautiful, possibly train-related work. Amtrak says it aimed to “offer a diverse representation of the writing community” chosen from across the country.
While diversity includes any number of different factors, the list is admirably gender-balanced (12 men and 12 women), although it marginally looks like it inclines towards white writers. The list initially meant to include journalists and other nonfiction writers, but now includes novelists, playwrights, comic authors, and poets too.
Amtrak’s Authors’ Residency Program was born from an off-hand suggestion from author Alexander Chee, who said he preferred writing on a train and wished Amtrak, would offer a residency. Freelance writer Jessica Gross, among others, tweeted his proposal to Amtrak. The company responded by offering Gross a “test run” of the residency, giving her a free round trip from New York to Chicago, reported CNN.
As a result, Gross published a piece about the experience in The Paris Review. Soon after, Amtrak announced that it was creating an official program and accepting applications.
What does the program entitle? Interestingly, the word ‘residency’ might be a tad too strong to describe the program, which essentially offers a free pass aboard one of Amtrak’s long journey trains. Amtrak’s rules for this year’s program mentions that each applicant gets a single round-trip, long-distance ticket for a sleeper car, with the route determined “based on availability.”
Amtrak claims the travelers will be getting a respite from the outside world and an inspiring view, and the company is undoubtedly earning good PR and the affection of some excellent writers. Reportedly, the entire program will cost Amtrak close to $22,000.
The conditions set forth, essentially give Amtrak the right to republish any part of the application (apparently including writing samples) for publicity or any other purpose. Though many in the writers’ community strongly felt these were atrocious, Amtrak confirmed it received more than 16,000 applications for the 24 spots.
[Image Credit | CNN, Amtrak]