Rider's Residency: Amtrak Offers Free Long-Distance Train Rides to Writers
Walt Disney came up with Mickey Mouse on a train. Same thing with J.K. Rowling, who says Harry Potter popped into her head fully formed on a crowded car.
And now 24 writers will get a special chance to find their own inspiration on the tracks.
Amtrak announced last weekend a new program giving writers a free round-trip, long-distance ticket so they can write and "watch the American countryside roll by for inspiration." Amtrak's selected writers will get a private sleeper car, desk, bed and a window so they can "work on their craft in an inspiring environment," according to Amtrak.
Excitement spread quickly among writers in St. Louis, which is connected on the Texas Eagle route, running from Chicago to Los Angeles deep through the heart of the Lone Star State:
Big wish: that a poet will be among the 24 selected for #AmtrakResidency. Our lines run through this country's heart just like those tracks!— Jazzy Danziger Loyal (@JazzyLoyal) March 9, 2014
Amtrak may be on to something: http://t.co/Q1E1wEabLL— Tricia Bisoux (@TriciaBisoux) March 5, 2014
Amtrak's definition of a writer seems purposefully broad. Writers don't need to be published to apply, says Julia Quinn, Amtrak's social media director, especially since "the differences between a journalist, a published author, a blogger -- those lines are continually blurred by the Internet."
Amtrak launched the new program just a few weeks after seeing a tweet from Jessica Gross, a New York City-based writer, who said she wanted a writer's residency on a train. Amtrak sent her on a test-run to Chicago and back, and Gross said the train's strict schedule, calming movement and the company of strangers created a "wonderful" environment for writing.
Writers seriously love trains.
"I don't know what this says about the connection between writing and sleeping, but both seem to benefit from the steady movement of the train," Gross says. "There's something comforting and meditative about it...It's that kind of deep thinking that the train is particularly good for, and that can be more difficult to achieve in the interstices of busy day-to-day life."
Amtrak is accepting applications on a rolling basis.