Writing the Rails: The Amtrak Residency for Writers

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Railroad tracks photo taken from inside of train out the window.

The view from the window of the Amtrak Lake Shore Limited. Photo by Jessica Gross

NEA Arts Amtrak Writers Residency Final 122115.mp3

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In my world, long-distance train travel is imbued with romanticism—it could be the pace of travel, the sound of the wheels and the whistle, the slight sway of the cars.  It could also be all those books and films with pivotal moments that take place on a train. Where does Anna meet Count Vronsky, after all? All right, it’s really when the train reaches the station; but, it was Anna’s long conversation with his mother on the train that set up the fateful meeting. For train travel, the journey is as important as the arrival.

I’m hardly alone in my attachment to train travel.  In fact, in an interview one writer who so loved writing on trains remarked that Amtrak should create a writer’s residency. Another writer tweeted to Amtrak: “How about it?”  Amtrak said, “Sounds good,” and the Amtrak Residency for Writers was born.

Just beginning its second year, the Amtrak Residency for Writers gives each of its 24 residents the round trip of their choice.  There’s a limit of two long-distance routes each way, and Amtrak works with the writers and its own ticket sales to schedule the writers throughout the year. How have writers responded? Well, 16,000 applied in the first year. But how has it been for a writer taking part in the residency? Why did Amtrak decide to pursue it and how did it all come together?

 Amtrak’s first resident writer Jessica Gross and the program’s director Julia Quinn take us through one writer’s residency and how and why Amtrak set the program in motion.

Find out more about the Amtrak Residency for Writers.

Read Jessica Gross’ essay in The Paris Review Daily, “Writing the Lake Shore Limited.”