Amtrak to Offer “Riders” Residencies

Writers across the blogosphere are all atwitter (pardon the pun) about this new development: Amtrak is seriously considering offering writers long round-trip rides for the sole purpose of writing. Jessica Gross, a writer for the Paris Review, was given the honor of taking this program for a test run in exchange for tweeting about it. She writes, quite eloquently, about the reasons why train travel is so inspiring:

“These reasons are all undergirded by a sense of safety, borne of boundaries. … the train is bounded, compartmentalized, and cozily small, like a carrel in a college library. … 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. My main job is to be transported; any reading or writing is extracurricular. The looming pressure of expectation dissolves. And the movement of a train conjures the ultimate sense of protection—being a baby, rocked in a bassinet.”

The details are still up in the air, but they plan to keep the program free or low-cost. The selection process still hasn’t been ironed out, but apparently the focus is on those writers/journalists/bloggers with a strong social-media presence (which would probably eliminate yours truly). There wouldn’t be any requirements to actually produce anything; they want to keep it an “organic experience.”

I’ve never been on a train (unless you count the subway), and the nearest Amtrak station is a four-hour drive away, but I would love to do this! I’ve had a similar experience on long bus rides, watching the scenery flow by, the rhythmic motion of the bus lulling me into a sort of Zen state…but the lack of comfort or a place to write made it impossible to actually write anything. Gross’ trip was in, apparently, a small private car, which does sound like the perfect arrangement. Paul Theroux would, no doubt, love this.


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