Writer’s Corner: The Amtrak Residency

Tweeting doesn’t usually result in anything this cool. Not so long ago, Jessica Gross read an interview with novelist Alexander Chee, who said that his favorite place to write was on a train. “I wish Amtrak had residencies for writers.” Gross tweeted her agreement with the sentiment. And who wouldn’t? Trundling along in a gently swaying car as the panorama of America swoops past, soothing your anxiety over the knotty twelfth chapter of that novel you can’t quite finish, has a curiously soothing appeal to it.

The result of this tweet? Gross found herself on a train, courtesy of Amtrak, which offered her a free ride from New York to Chicago and back. Gross wrote in The Paris Review about the appeal of scribbling in a train car:

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. 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…

So far, this was just a test run that Amtrak’s social media director cooked up. But keep your ears and ears open; this could be better than Yaddo.

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