Mystery Train: the Amtrak Residency

I’m thrilled beyond recognition – -thrilled to a crisp, in fact — to share the exciting news that I’m one of 24 professional writers selected out of 16,000 entries in this first ever Amtrak Writers’ Residency competition.

amtrakThe what? You heard me.  I’m thrilled beyond recognition — thrilled to a crisp, in fact — to share the exciting news that I’m one of 24 writers selected out of 16,100 entries in the first ever Amtrak Writers Residency.  Not without its fascination and controversies, the residency has been covered microscopically in the New Yorker, New York Times, Washington Post, CNN and HuffPo over the past 8 months.  For my money, Boris Kachka wrote the best overview in New York Magazine.   Basically, we each get to travel for a week or two in a private cabin on the Amtrak routes of our choosing during the next year as kind of a moving residency, as opposed to being isolated at a cabin in the woods or holed up at an artists colony like Yaddo where I have also stayed.

Alexander Chee, the writer who started it all.

This unique residency program started because last year in a PEN interview, novelist Alexander Chee said that he did a lot of writing on trains and that he wished Amtrak had writers residencies. He was joking but Amtrak got wind of his remark, thanks to a grass roots Twitter campaign, and decided to heed his call and launch such a program for established writers.

One of the writing samples I submitted was my Washington Post story from last year about my crazy spiritual experience aboard a commuter train between New York City’s Penn Station and Philadelphia.  However, my primary writing sample was an excerpt from my award-winning, yet unproduced (anyone?) screenplay Lords of Light, an historical drama about Nikola Tesla and his rivalry with Thomas Edison, written while I was a graduate student at NYU Tisch School of the Arts. Speaking of this, I can’t help but proudly mention that out of the 24 residents, 3 of us are NYU alums.

Contrary to what you may have read, residents are not required to write about trains. This is not a job doing PR for Amtrak and there is no pay.

As I presently have no idea when I’m leaving, where I’ll be going, or what I’ll be working on, this seems an appropriate celebratory song. I hope you’re enjoying it.



Thank you, Saraswati.


[vintage Amtrak postcard via Alexander Chee photo via]