#AmtrakResidency Writer Program Travels Into Year Two
Amtrak is about to open its doors to a second year of its writer residency program.
You might remember #AmtrakResidency was born on Twitter late 2013, after author Alexander Chee casually mentioned his favorite place to write was on the train. Chee said on the PEN America site that he wished “Amtrak had residencies for writers.”
In just six days, #AmtrakResidency garnered thousands of mentions, and the company decided to initiate a writer program.
“We thought 21,000 Twitter mentions was a big deal, but then 16,000 applications came through,” said Julia Quinn, Amtrak public relations director and head of the #AmtrakResidency program. “We were just floored.”
While Amtrak doesn’t yet have an exact date for its fall program relaunch, now would be the time to prep your application. (But make sure to follow the rules; many applications didn’t make the first cut because of things like page limitations.)
Last year, Amtrak officials took three months to comb through applications, whittling the field down from 16,000 to just 24 writers.
The program’s judges were invited to make the final selections on applications. The panel included Chee; Joe McHugh, Amtrak vice president of government affairs; Samuel Nicholson, editor with Random House and The Modern Library; and Amy Stolls, literature director with the National Endowment for the Arts.
That was a year ago. By September, Amtrak planned to allow roughly two residents a month to write while riding its cross-country trains.
“Over the last eight months, we have been honored to have these writers travel with us,” Quinn said. “You can literally take the same route two days apart and have a different experience. Some have chosen to contribute to the Amtrak blog, which is not a requirement. Some have decided to chronicle the trip on their social media properties, and some took it as a digital detox to focus on their next great project.”
Quinn said they’re going to rely heavily on resident feedback as the company moves into the second year of the program.
Amtrak will look for details regarding trip length (how many days are too many/what’s just right), and whether it’s easier for Amtrak to build the itinerary or leave that up to the resident. So far, the program has involved free travel and meals.
Some ambitious residents wanted to stay on the trains for a longer period of time than the program’s allotted two cross-country trains per leg. In those cases, residents paid for the additional travel. Others brought company and paid for their travel companions.
“We’re getting the lessons learned from a writer’s perspective and lessons learned from our perspective,” she said, mentioning the application window will be smaller. “While we were honored to have 16,000 apply, we’re not interested in having the application process go as long. But if we get 16,000 applications again in the [time] it’s open, I guess that’s a good problem to have.”
Regardless, the #AmtrakResidency conversation remains active.
“[The residents] really had very different experiences,” Quinn said. “Some found it easy; others found the scenery distracting. It really is indicative of the average rider on Amtrak. It depends on how you take on the trip and what you want to get out of it.”
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