It all started with a simple, off-the-cuff remark about a favourite writing venue. Little did American author Alexander Chee know that his comment to PEN Ten interviewer, Lauren Cerand, would spark an online revolution in the connection between writing and the rails.
Where is your favorite place to write?
I still like a train best for this kind of thing. I wish Amtrak had residencies for writers. And after trains, libraries at night, especially empty ones.
As if to prove that in our modern age no comment goes unnnoticed, Chee’s casual idea quickly gathered steam as fellow writers and train culture enthusiasts, like freelancer Jessica Gross, took to Twitter to express their interest in the idea.
How much momentum do we have to gain for this to become real, @Amtrak?
Often, people Tweet at companies and don’t get a response – after all, there many more Twitter users than corporate social media editors. Sometimes, a witty and tech-savvy company will take the time to respond in a humorous way. It’s the rare company, though, that will not only respond to such a request but go ahead and make the idea a reality.
@zseward @jessicagross We’d need a test run. You two up for a trip to Chicago and back?
Amtrak is, apparently, just that sort of company. After sending Gross on a free, 44-hour round trip, the company followed up with the man whose comment launched a thousand trains: Alexander Chee, himself. With Chee set to embark on a New York City to Portland adventure this May, Amtrak has now officially opened up their new-found residency program for applications. With the “sole criteria” being “a passion for writing and an aspiration to travel with Amtrak for inspiration,” anyone is welcome to apply online on the #AmtrakResidency website.
Love the idea of taking up a creative residency, but can’t make it to the USA for your cross-country train trip? TellTell Poetry has a curated list of a variety of international options to check out and, while they aren’t all free like Amtrak, they’re guaranteed to inspire the writer in anyone.
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