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Author's wish for Amtrak to offer 'writer's residencies' becomes a real thing

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Lumbering across the countryside in your cozy sleeper cabin, the endless fields, pastures, and forests whizzing by your window: a long train ride can be a relaxing place, and relaxing places are conducive to writing. So conducive, in fact, that author Alexander Chee likes trains best for putting pen to paper. "I still like a train best for this kind of thing. I wish Amtrak had residencies for writers," he said during a recent interview with literature advocacy group Pen. Writer Jessica Gross picked up the cause on Twitter, which eventually led to a response from Amtrak:

Gross ended up taking Amtrak's first "writer's residency," a free trip from New York City to Chicago and back, during which she penned a piece for the Paris Review. It's not so much an official program yet as a case-by-case deal set up through Amtrak's refreshingly responsive Twitter account, but it's possible that the company will turn it into something more official — either way, though, Amtrak has to choose you, after which you're free to write whatever your heart desires as you whisk along the railway. "Train time is found time. My main job is to be transported; any reading or writing is extracurricular. The looming pressure of expectation dissolves," Gross writes.

Of course, Amtrak is chronically underfunded and unprofitable — subsidizing trips for writers with wanderlust may not be the most objectively efficient use of its money. "We need to weigh [whether] it's a good investment on our end," an Amtrak spokesperson told The Wire. Perhaps, but it's unlikely most will argue that it's a better investment than high-speed rail.