Amtrak Offers ‘Writer’s Residencies’ With Free Rides

It was a couple of months ago that the idea for a writing residency through Amtrak was first introduced by a couple of writers who openly pondered the idea on Twitter.

Jessica Gross, A New York City-based freelancer and Zach Seward, editor at Quartz, posted about their desire that a program existed which allowed writers to focus on their craft while enjoying the long-distance train commutes through picturesque rural America.

Unexpectedly, Amtrak responded with an invitation for the two writers to act as literary guinea pigs for the concept.

Gross accepted the offer and within days she was westbound on her way to Chicago.  Gross first considered the idea after reading an interview with novelist Alexander Chee, where he stated that trains were his favorite place to write.

After Gross had completed her trip, she was asked why she felt trains were a good place to write during a follow-up interview with Amtrak.

“I think it’s a combination of the set deadline—the end of the train ride—the calming movement, and the company of strangers,” she said.

And with that the program was launched.  Earlier this month Amtrak started accepting applications for the program with the application deadline being the last of this month. Up to 24 lucky writers will have the chance to take long-distance trips to work on their literary masterpieces.  Like Gross, the guests will be staying in individual sleeper cabins equipped with a bed, desk, outlet and all of the visual inspiration that inevitably comes with cross-country travel.

Each residency will last between two and five days with writers taking routes all over the country.

But some writers aren’t convinced that the trip is as wonderful as it seems.  A clause in the agreement gives Amtrak the right to use your work, which has turned off some potential applicants.

‘Grant of Rights: In submitting an Application, Applicant hereby grants Sponsor the absolute, worldwide, and irrevocable right to use, modify, publish, publicly display, distribute, and copy Applicant’s Application, in whole or in part, for any purpose, including, but not limited to, advertising and marketing, and to sublicense such rights to any third parties. In addition, Applicant hereby represents that he/she has obtained the necessary rights from any persons identified in the Application (if any persons are minors, then the written consent of and grant from the minor’s parent or legal guardian); and, Applicant grants Sponsor the absolute, worldwide, and irrevocable right to use, modify, publish, publicly display, distribute, and copy the name, image, and/or likeness of Applicant and the names of any such persons identified in the Application for any purpose, including, but not limited to, advertising and marketing. For the avoidance of doubt, one’s Application will NOT be kept confidential (and, for this reason, it is recommended that the writing sample and answers to questions not contain any personally identifiable information – e.g., name or e-mail address – of Applicant.) Upon Sponsor’s request and without compensation, Applicant agrees to sign any additional documentation that Sponsor may require so as to effect, perfect or record the preceding grant of rights and/or to furnish Sponsor with written proof that he/she has secured any and all necessary third party consents relative to the Application.’

Amtrak has responded to those on Twitter who have expressed concern, saying that they would consult with the writer before their work is used in any promotional material.

From the press that has been generated after Gross completed her trip, you can assume that Amtrak will use your work for the same PR content similarly to Gross’s.  The company interviewed her and posted links to her published story, which doesn’t seem as intimidating at the written clause makes it to be.

Gross wrote about her experience for The Paris Review, aptly titled Writing the Lake Shore Limited.  In her written piece, Gross stated that she enjoyed her 44-hour-long journey across New York, Pennsylvania, and the Midwest on her way to Chicago.

Gross finished her interview with Amtrak with some advice for those considering the literary journey.

“Try it! Don’t be too ambitious with what you plan to get done,” she said.  “Allow for time spent gazing out the window, letting ideas work themselves out in your mind. 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.”

About Sean Flynn

Sean Flynn is a recent graduate from City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. His work has appeared in The Buffalo News, Condé Nast Traveler, The New York Times 'Fort Greene Local', The Daily Meal, and
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