When Alexander Chee, author of “The Queen of the Night,” mentioned that he wished Amtrak had a residency program for writers, he may not have expected the company would listen. However, after Chee shared his longing in an interview with PEN Ten, Amtrak offered an opportunity for a writer to ride across the country for free.
To Chicago and back
Jessica Gross was the first writer to hop on board, and she maintained a blog about the experience. Gross didn’t have to pay for the trip (which took her from New York to Chicago and back), but agreed to write a review and share news about her journey on social media.
Gross not only wrote a response for Amtrak’s blog, but she penned an article on the experience for the Paris Review.
“I’ve always been a claustrophile, and I think that explains some of the appeal—the train is bounded, compartmentalized, and cozily small, like a carrel in a college library. Everything has its place. The towel goes on the ledge beneath the mirror; the sink goes into its hole in the wall; during the day, the bed, which slides down from overhead, slides up into a high pocket of space. There is comfort in the certainty of these arrangements. The journey is bounded, too: I know when it will end. Train time is found time,” Gross wrote.
The possibility of a continued program
There’s been no word on whether Amtrak will make the writers’ residency a permanent program. If the company does continue residencies, it’s likely that the writers will have to pay for the trip (even if it’s a reduced rate). Julia Quinn, Amtrak’s social media director, did tell Wired that Amtrak would like to host more writers.
“We need to weigh [whether] it’s a good investment on our end,” Quinn told the source.
Should the program prove to be lucrative, Amtrak’s goal would be to “engage with writers several times a month.”